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Sarah Richey of Five Valleys Land Trust and Brad Isbell stand on some of his property in Grass Valley west of Missoula that he placed into a conservation easement recently. Isbell’s 75 acres of wildlife habitat and prime farmland will be protected from development in perpetuity.

In a fall season that’s already seen the spending of more than $1 million in open space bonds on more than 650 acres, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners and City Council approved one more Wednesday.

The 75-acre Isbell-Blue Heron property, in the Grass Valley west of Missoula, was donated by owners Brad and Stephanie Isbell, to be held in perpetuity in a conservation easement.

The city and county approved spending $150,000 of the 2006 Open Space Bond funds, which are dwindling; just $1.7 million remained before the recent purchase approvals.  

The commissioners and council unanimously approved the purchase, with profuse thanks to the Isbells for their generosity. City council representatives Jordan Hess, Jon Wilkins and Michelle Cares were absent from the meeting.

“When my wife and I bought this property a few years ago, we thought, ‘Wow. This is a great opportunity,’” Brad Isbell said.

Both real estate developers and environmentalists took a lot of interest in the land, where the Isbells grow barley and oats and raise sheep and goats.

“Developers have a different concept of highest and best use,” he said.

The two came to realize what the best use was and contacted Five Valleys Land Trust, the Missoula-based organization that’s worked to conserve more than 70,000 acres in Western Montana since their 1971 founding.

Five Valleys helped them organize the transition to a conservation easement and corralled the city and county open space managers to help.

The Isbells ended up donating most of the land’s value, $534,400 of the total $685,000 and the open space bonds covered the rest.

Five Valleys will manage the easement, which will remain in private ownership, leaving no ongoing costs for the city or county.

Ron Schlader, a member of the county’s Open Lands Citizen Advisory Committee, offered their endorsement to the commissioners and said their group toured the land recently.

“What we saw was a great example of a large chunk of open space being encroached upon by subdivisions.”

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