Missoula County maintains Five Valleys contract for monitoring conservation easements

The Five Valleys Land Trust will continue to monitor Missoula County’s patchwork of conservation easements, most of which date back several decades before most land trusts were established.

Commissioners this week approved the $1,625 contract with the local land trust, which is better equipped to monitor the easements. Five Valleys has been monitoring the county’s easements since 2009.

“For numerous years we’ve had Five Valleys monitor the conservation easements we’ve had,” said Kylie Paul, the county’s conservation lands manager. “Monitoring is required for a conservation easement. They’re more suited for it than we are.”

According to the contract, the county holds roughly seven easements, ranging from 2.6 acres near Riverside Park in Lolo to 62 acres near the edge of Missoula, which Paul identified as the golf course near Shadow’s Keep.

Of the seven easements, three are in Lolo and three are up Deep Creek, including the largest easement held by the county at 367 acres. Paul said the Deep Creek parcels have been consolidated under a single easement.

“The way we’ve been working here has been pretty efficient, where it’s just a small portion of funds and they (Five Valleys) do the essential work of reviewing the easement and making sure the landowners are upholding the requirements involved in the conservation easement,” Paul said.

Paul said most of the easements date back to the 1970s before many of today’s land trusts were established. She said monitoring the easements is critical to the long-term protection of the resources for which the conservation easements were established in the first place.

“Now it’s a very structured system land trusts are in charge of,” Paul said. “We’re an entity that holds them for those private land owners. We’ve tried to have Five Valleys Take them over for us, but it’s a big lift for them to take on our older conservation easements.”