Open Lands Program

In November 2008, voters in Lewis and Clark County approved the Land, Water, and Wildlife bond measure. This $10 million general obligation bond is for "...protecting drinking water sources and ground water quality; protecting water quality in and along rivers and streams; conserving working farm, ranch and forest lands; protecting wildlife areas; preserving open lands and natural areas; providing for recreation; and managing growth and development". Funds generated by sales of these bonds are distributed through the Open Lands Program. The primary purpose of the program is to conserve resources on private lands in the County that fulfill the objectives of the bond measure.

The Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) appointed the Citizens Advisory Committee on Open Lands (CAC) to make recommendations on project applications. The CAC is advisory only and the BoCC makes the decision to utilize the bond funds on a particular project.

Open Lands Program Guide

15 Completed Projects

2022: Canyon Cattle Company Conservation Easement

2020: Potter Ranch Conservation Easement

2019: Falls Creek Land Acquisition

2019: Peaks to Creeks (10-mile & 7-mile) Land Acquisition

2017: Shoco Ranch Conservation Easement

2016: Lincoln Community River Park Land Acquisition

2016: Gehring Ranch Conservation Easement

2016: Specimen Creek Land Acquisition

2015: South Hills Land Acquisition

2015: Welch Ranch Conservation Easement

2015: Johnston Ranch Conservation Easement

2014: York Gulch Land Acquisition

2012: Aspen Trails Conservation Easement & Land Acquisition

2011: Milburn Conservation Easement

2010: McDonough Ranch Conservation Easement

Open Lands Project Story Board

Open Lands Accomplishments


What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary, yet legally binding and recorded agreement by which landowners may restrict select uses of their land to achieve protection of certain delineated conservation values. Landowner(s) continue to retain private ownership and may sell, gift, or transfer the property with a conservation easement in effect. Conservation easements typically protect open space, wildlife, fisheries, and/or water quality, or preserve valuable ranch and farm properties. Conservation easements remain in effect when the property is sold or passed to the next generation. A conservation easement may be sold, donated, or partially sold and partially donated by a landowner. Private lands remain in private ownership. The terms of the conservation easement may have requirements, such as keeping riparian areas intact or when and how to harvest timber. As conservation easements usually have a value attached to them, they can be donated and/or purchased. Donating conservation easements may provide income or estate tax benefits. However, landowners must continue to pay Montana property taxes.

Are conservation easements new in Lewis and Clark County?

No. Landowners in Lewis and Clark County have utilized conservation easements for many years.

Why do landowners put conservation easements on their property?

Conservation easements protect land for future generations while allowing owners to retain many private property rights and continue traditional uses such as farming, ranching, forestry, hunting, and fishing. Landowners may receive compensation for qualified conservation easements from the Lewis and Clark County Open Lands Program and/or may be able to qualify for certain income and estate tax benefits. Additionally, conservation easements can be useful and valuable estate planning tools. Many landowners simply wish to see specific attributes of their property protected such as wildlife habitat, and not want to see their land subdivided or inappropriately developed. No two conservation easements are alike. Each is tailored to accomplish the landowner's specific desires.

How is the value of a conservation easement determined?

The value of each proposed Lewis and Clark County Open Lands Program conservation easement will be determined by an appraisal completed by a certified appraiser qualified to appraise conservation easements. Generally, the way conservation easement value is determined by the appraiser is the market value of the property before the easement minus the market value of the property after the easement execution. The difference between the two market values is the value of the conservation easement. Once appraised, the purchase price is determined by the Lewis and Clark County Commission.

What is public access?

Public access can have a different meaning to different people. For example, limited access on a defined trail across the easement property to reach an historic site on adjacent lands would provide partial access. Further, that access could be limited in time, perhaps only during certain times or seasons. Hunting access or fishing access to portions of the ranch during specific months and specific hours may be included. That access could, for example, preclude camping, fires, and motorized vehicles. Because each conservation easement is tailored to the landowners' desires, there is great flexibility in addressing public access if so desired.

Is public access required?

No. Public access is not a requirement of the Lewis and Clark County Open Lands program. The decision to open conservation easement lands to public access is the decision of the landowner. Though public access is not required, if the landowner so desires, it can be included. "Providing for Recreation" is one of the goals of the bond resolution. Projects that propose access in some form will generally receive a higher appraisal value and may be viewed more favorably during the decision process.

How will the County make sure that conserved lands will be properly maintained?

The conservation easement includes restrictions to protect the conservation values of the property in perpetuity. The terms of those restrictions will provide safeguards to ensure that the land will always be preserved in accordance with the goals of the landowner and the Lewis and Clark County Open Lands Program. Easement terms or restrictions are voluntarily entered into by the landowner, and are monitored and enforced by a qualified organization or agency.

More information about conservation easements can be found at

Open Lands Program Contact Information

Phil Gonzalez
Open Lands Program Coordinator



316 North Park Avenue, Room 230
Helena, MT 59623