Five Valleys is thrilled to announce that we were recently awarded $3.7 million in funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to help fund conservation projects in the Flint Creek Valley, located between Drummond and Philipsburg, over the next five years.
“RCPP is a tremendous investment in the Flint Creek Valley at a critical time of unprecedented development pressure as well as landowner interest for agricultural land conservation,” says Whitney Schwab, Five Valleys Land Trust Executive Director. “This dedicated fund will allow us to work with our NRCS partners and landowners to support once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will ensure that agricultural livelihoods and working lands can be adaptive and resilient in perpetuity.”
RCPP is administered by the NRCS as a part of the USDA’s Farm Bill programs. Through RCPP, conservation partners work in collaboration with NRCS to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners throughout the nation to implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats and increase climate resilience.
“This win for the Flint Creek Valley would not be possible without the leadership of Senator Tester and Senator Daines. Their work to ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill would support Montana agricultural producers made this award possible,” says Schwab.
The Flint Creek Valley represents one of the last remaining strongholds of viable agriculture in western Montana. In 2017, the area supported a $17.8M agricultural industry. Yet, the area also saw a 196% increase in real estate sales between 2019 and 2020, according to Granite County Real Estate data.
“There has been an interest in agricultural land conservation for a long time in the Flint Creek Valley,” says Sarah Richey, Five Valleys Conservation Project Manager. “Over many years, we’ve worked with landowners and partners to find conservation outcomes that work well for ranchers and ranchlands. Today, we’re seeing both increased pressures and a corresponding increase in conservation interest in the region. RCPP funding could not have come at a better time.”
Five Valleys has a long history of protecting land in the Flint Creek Valley. Since 2010, Five Valleys has worked with local families to place conservation easements on over 10,500 acres of ranchland, cropland, and timberland in the Flint Creek Valley, ensuring that these lands will remain intact for agriculture and wildlife in perpetuity. These successes were made possible by the care that these families have for their properties, and over $6.6M in NRCS funding that Five Valleys has secured through NRCS programs.
“RCPP leverages the power of public-private partnerships to focus resources and make a difference for the folks that manage Montana’s working lands,” said Tom Watson, NRCS State Conservationist for Montana. “Taking this chance to build on the successful partnership with Five Valleys Land Trust will bolster the economic and natural resource resiliency of agricultural operations in the Flint Creek Valley.”
Recent wildlife migration models indicate that the Flint Creek Valley offers one of the few feasible routes for wildlife moving between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. RCPP would support the area’s agriculture, wildlife, and local economy by protecting thousands of acres of working lands with conservation easements.
Conservation easements guarantee that the land can never be subdivided, ensuring that ranches remain large enough to support the families that have stewarded them for generations, as well as the many wildlife species that depend on the diverse habitat types and open migration corridors that these working lands support. These values in turn support the area’s growing tourism and recreation economy by protecting the natural values that visitors come to appreciate.
“This is absolutely terrific news for Montana agriculture and the Flint Creek Valley,” said Glenn Marx of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “Congratulations to Five Valleys for their commitment to agricultural conservation and thanks to Montana State Conservationist Tom Watson and the NRCS for making this project possible.”
Photo: Ranchlands and wildflowers in the Flint Creek Valley by Five Valleys staff