A clarification or two may be in order regarding a recent Missoulian article titled “147-year-old Deschamps Ranch west of Missoula put up for sale.”
The ranch certainly is impressive property and it is equally impressive to note the ranch has been in the Deschamps family since before the Battle of the Little Bighorn and since the same year Yellowstone National Park was created.
There are two points within the article, however, that beg clarification. In the article there are suggestions that a conservation easement is incompatible with a working family farm or ranch, and that landowners would be “unable to sell the ranch” if a conservation easement was placed on the property.
There are a couple thousand Montana landowners across the state who prove every day that conservation easements and working farms and ranches are not only eminently compatible, but offer day-in and day-out proof that among the clear goals of the easement is the ability to preserve the family farm or ranch and help enable ranch operation succession planning.
In addition, hundreds of Montana properties with conservation easements have changed hands over the years. That said, no two conservation easements are exactly the same, in part because no two landowners or two land parcels are exactly the same. That means it’s true that in some cases easements can lower the financial value of the property. It is also true that new buyers purchase easement properties in part because they respect the value inherent in agricultural lands, open space, wildlife habitat, and even historic family legacies such as the Deschamps’.
For over four decades, Montana farmers and ranchers have voluntarily worked with land trusts and public agencies to conserve over 2.5 million acres of private lands. But conservation easements are not for everybody, and are apparently not right for Mr. Deschamps. Nothing wrong with that. But without doubt conservation easements assist farm and ranch families and at the same time help protect US food security, provide open land and wildlife habitat conservation, help maintain the essence of Montana, and so much more.
Montana Association of Land Trusts, Helena