WHITEFISH — What are conservation easements? At their core, easements aim to permanently protect critical wildlife habitat and farmland from future development.
Think of it as a partnership tied to the title of the property in perpetuity, land that can never be subdivided, developed, or misused to benefit a private party.
As commercial growth seems constant these days in an ever-changing Flathead Valley, a family in Whitefish is protecting 655 acres of land for generations to come.
“This is a legacy that really, I’m going to be really proud when I die, that this is something that we were able to do,” said Montana Landowner Carolyn Kohrs.
Off Lodgepole Road southwest of Whitefish along the banks of the Stillwater River, sits 655 acres of rich farmland and wildlife habitat.
“We have a piece of property in the back where we grow alfalfa and the elk come in the summer and they have their babies back there, and we just leave them alone.” said Montana Landowner Doug Kohrs.
Doug and Carolyn Kohrs first purchased 20 acres of land off Lodgepole Road back in 2004.
Over the years, the Kohrs family added acreage to that original number, after seeing vital farmland being converted into housing developments across the Flathead Valley.
“You buy your house, and you hope it’s going to be a good investment, you get into a business, and you hope it’s going to be a good investment, I feel like this is the first thing that we’ve ever invested in that the turn on investment is conservation," said Carolyn.
Over the last two years, the Kohrs family worked diligently with the Flathead Land Trust to work up a conservation easement on the property, permanently protecting the land from future development.
“We’ve tried to think about how we and future generations could use this in a positive way without negatively impacting the conservation value for the animals and also the conservation value for the farming,” added Carolyn.
The working farmland on the Kohrs property is rich for an abundant of crops, from summer wheat, canola, alfalfa and more.
“Not too many people know that we have some of the richest farmland in the nation in the Flathead,” said Flathead Land Trust Land Protections Specialist Laura Katzman.
Katzman said protecting farmland and wildlife habitat though conservation easements is important for a healthy Montana.
“Continue to have a high quality of life in the Flathead, being able to see birds and wildlife, have clean water to recreate in, local foods produced on rich farmland,” said Katzman.
“What you see now is what our great grandchildren will see,” added Carolyn.
“It’s really gorgeous to drive here in the summer and watch the canola in full bloom, the whole field is just yellow, and we want to make sure people can see that forever,” said Doug.