Conservation Easements

Conservation can only happen once. It’s a fleeting opportunity in the overall scheme of time. These are not just decisions of a lifetime, they are decisions that impact the history of the world.

– Jim Valeo, Five Valleys conservation easement landowner
Photo by Mark Mesenko

Sometimes, land that isn’t public is still in the public interest—a century-old family ranch, private lands that contain tracts of rivers or streams, or a swath of undeveloped forest that provides habitat connectivity for wildlife. We work with landowners who would like to preserve the value they derive from the land while also honoring its value to the community. We do this through arrangements called conservation easements.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement by which a landowner chooses to limit certain uses of his or her land in order to conserve some value it provides. Land placed into a conservation easement still belongs to the landowner, and the landowner retains the rights to sell the land or pass it to heirs.

Most landowners with conservation easements continue to live on and manage the land for farming, ranching, timber, recreation, and other uses. These agreements are tailored to meet the needs and long-term goals of each landowner. Five Valleys Land Trust ensures that the mutually agreed-upon terms and conditions of the conservation easement are honored, and acts as a resource for landowners as they work toward these goals.

What's in it for the Community?


Water that passes through a natural hydrologic system is more likely to remain clean and abundant. Conservation easements can prevent certain kinds of development in critical areas, thereby strengthening these important natural systems.


Conservation easements can be critical for preserving migratory routes and habitat of native plants and animals, especially on lands that might otherwise be eventually developed. Easements can be written to still allow productive use on private land.


Family farms and ranches are the hard-working backbone of western Montana’s landscape. Well-managed family lands have put food on our tables, money in our local economy, and preserved critical open spaces for generations. Often, a conservation easement is the best way to ensure this tradition continues into the future.


Outdoor recreation is part of the living, breathing fabric of our communities and our lives in western Montana. A surprising amount of private land is made available to the public by generous landowners, and a conservation easement can ensure that generosity is passed down to future owners.

What's in it for the Landowner?


For many landowners, a conservation easement means knowing that the generations of stewardship that have gone into their family lands will not be lost in the future. An easement may also be a key to assuring continued family ownership and management of those family lands.


A conservation easement can be a great tool for establishing certainty about future uses of a property. Used wisely in estate planning, a conservation easement can provide peace of mind for current owners and future generations alike.


When it is created, a conservation easement can be valued by a qualified appraisal. When an appraised easement is donated, the gift can be recognized as a charitable contribution. The tax incentives associated with the gift can be beneficial to the donor. In some cases, conservation easements may be purchased. Landowners sometimes use that sale income to reduce debt or reinvest in productive land. There are additional estate tax benefits that can apply to conservation easements.


Conservation easements protect many natural values cherished by landowners and the broader community alike. Frequently, landowners generously donate or sell conservation easements to protect land recognized as priceless community treasures.

Life as an easement landowner

Five Valleys Land Trust accepts a perpetual responsibility to monitor all of its conservation easement lands to ensure that the purposes of each easement are realized. We visit each property at least once each year and strive to maintain healthy working relationships with easement landowners.

We also work collaboratively with interested landowners to develop, implement and monitor voluntary land management practices that enhance the conservation values of the land, including weed control, restoration forestry practices, and grazing management techniques.

Jerry and Janet McGahan

"Growing up in Montana, I fished, hunted, and hiked the extraordinary landscapes around my hometowns. It was in those wild settings where I learned that thriving had more than a little to do with living in that kind of space. In these changing times, it’s easy to see what we want to preserve.

Presently, a western wood peewee nests on a limb overhanging our garden. Once we saw a moose walk through the orchard.  We may never see another there, but we’ll be watching. Conservation easements, like ours, ensure that some of these valuable landscapes will endure."

Jerry and Janet McGahan
Five Valleys Conservation Easement Landowners

Jack and Belinda Rich

"People value open space and there is never going to be any more of it. If people want to see open space, I encourage them to reach out to Five Valleys Land Trust. They are good people, trustworthy, and do a good job. Growth isn’t bad, but if it’s done in the wrong places it can adversely affect recreation, a view shed, or wildlife."

Jack and Belinda Rich
Five Valleys Conservation Easement Landowners

How to get Started

Interested in learning if a conservation easement is right for you and your land? Please take a moment to fill out our Project Inquiry Form by clicking the button below. This form will help us understand more about your property and your goals.
Prefer to connect with us in person? Please call our office at (406) 549-0755 during regular business hours.


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