From Our President, George Olsen

As the president of The Montana Land Reliance (MLR), it’s always gratifying to hear good things about your organization and staff.  Great employees make for an outstanding organization and as MLR’s reputation has grown because of great work done by staff, so has our ability to help Montana ranchers and farmers and other landowners keep their land open and undeveloped.

This past year, MLR managing director, Rock Ringling, was honored with the Advocacy Ambassador Award from the Land Trust Alliance.  Rock has worked for MLR since 1990 and has helped raise the organization’s profile and image not only across the state, but nationally.  One of the many ways that Rock has put MLR on the national map of land trust organizations has been to work very closely with decision-makers in Washington, D.C. By developing those relationships in Congress, Rock has been instrumental in ensuring that private land conservation and related tax incentives have had supporters inside the Beltway.

Montana ranchers and farmers have worked successfully with MLR on saving Montana’s open spaces through meetings with members of Congress.   They were able to talk about the power and satisfaction of leaving land undeveloped for future generations.  This kind of moving testimony has helped keep enhanced tax incentives for landowners who make donations of conservation easements in the spotlight on the national stage.  While much of this has been Rock’s doing, the efforts of the entire staff and Board are making this happen.

When landowners start to think about protecting their land for future generations, they often listen to their neighbors.  In 2014, this “word-of-mouth” advertising continued to bring concerned landowners to MLR to protect big pieces of Montana.  Gaining a reputation by doing things right, making a long process easy, and working as partners to protect the land has been the hallmark of MLR’s staff from the very beginning.

Times have changed for real estate values in Montana in recent years.  A few years ago rampant real estate development came to a crashing halt and many would-be developments fell on hard times.  In this report are two stories of developments “that might have been” were it not for a down-turn in the economy.  Now those places that might have been subdivisions will forever be kept open because far-sighted landowners were able to purchase the ground and work with MLR on conservation easements.   As real estate values and markets have rebounded, so too have efforts to develop and subdivide the state.  MLR will continue to work across the state to ensure that critical wildlife habitat and big open country remains that way.

There are many positive, heart-warming stories of land and people who love the land and wish to protect it.  But there are also many challenges ahead.  The past Congress again failed to extend tax incentives for conservation easements for the second straight year.  These national tax incentives were due for renewal in 2013 and two measures that would have extended them came up short in the last Congress, despite the hard work of MLR staff like Rock Ringling.  These are incentives that are broadly supported by both sides of the aisle. We are optimistic that our efforts in the 114th Congress will be more fruitful.

Closer to home, some exciting news has been the pending partnership between a smaller land trust in Red Lodge and MLR.  The Peaks and Prairies Land Trust will be joining forces with MLR to ensure that Montana farms and ranches on the Beartooth Front in South Central Montana remain open space.  This is an exciting merger for both organizations that will undoubtedly enable permanent protection for thousands of acres of Montana.

As we look forward to the future, The Montana Land Reliance and the land trust community face many challenges.   With the staff and Board and the resources we have developed over the years, we are ready to face those challenges.