Stewarding Conservation Easements – The Promise of Forever
Conservation Easements give people the assurance that the places they love will be protected forever. A Conservation Easement is a voluntary land agreement that runs with the land, in perpetuity. The property is still owned by the landowner but MALT becomes a partner in stewardship to ensure the owners’ wishes for the land are met. The promise of forever makes land conservation especially meaningful – a legacy for future generations.
Once land is place under a Conservation Easement, it’s the job of the land trust to make sure that promise is kept. And keeping land protected in perpetuity is — let’s face it — no small job. When an accredited land trust accepts a Conservation Easement, it takes on the responsibility to make sure that the terms of the agreement are upheld. This requires consistent stewardship, including monitoring of the property once a year. MALT annually hires a seasonal Land Steward from May to September to monitor its 86 Conservation Easements. MALT recently caught up with Lucas Thorsness our 2021 Land Steward to visit about his experiences.
MALT: Tell us about your background and how you decided to pursue this position at MALT?
Lucas: I was born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming and spent a lot of time growing up in Colorado visiting family and mountain bike racing. That is where a lot of my experience with MALT’s service area comes from and how I came to appreciate the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. After high school I went to Montana State University in Bozeman. I spent my time in college working for the university’s outdoor recreation program, interning with the Forest Service, serving on a backcountry trail crew throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and studying abroad in South America. I graduated in 2020 with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor is GIS, then completed a graduate certificate program in GIS through the University of Wyoming. I have had aspirations to work at a land trust for some time which is why I was initially drawn to MALT. The local land trust in Bozeman, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, did such great things for the community from creating greenspaces and urban trail systems to preserving farmland, forests and other natural spaces through Conservation Easements. The Land Steward position at MALT was a great opportunity to begin a career in conserving land in a beautiful and meaningful area.
MALT: What are your responsibilities and tasks as the Land Steward?
Lucas: My primary responsibility as Land Steward is to conduct the annual monitoring visits to each of MALT’s Conservation Easements across six counties. This entails speaking with landowners to learn about their properties and any projects they are undertaking on their land, and then driving around to see each property and ensure that the terms of the Conservation Easement are being upheld and the conservation values are being protected. After a few weeks on the job now, I would sum it up by saying that I just get to go hiking in beautiful places and take pictures!
MALT: What skills from your background have been important to your job? Have you acquired any new skills while on the job?
Lucas: Definitely the most important skills I have been using are all based around mapping and navigation. I have always loved navigating with paper maps or GPS, and I have had to do both of those pretty much every time I go out! As far as new skills go, I am learning a lot about the day to day operations of a land trust and the kinds of projects and tasks that the MALT staff is responsible for.
MALT: You have already completed monitoring a third of MALT’s Conservation Easements, have you experienced any memorable days?
Lucas: One of the most stand-out properties I have been to so far is the Resort Valley Ranch series of Conservation Easements. The landowners there were very kind and showed me around for two whole days telling me all about the history of the ranch that they have been on since the 1940s! Plus it is pretty awesome that such a large and unique natural area is conserved in perpetuity. As far as interesting situations go, I got chased and herded by three very large Great Pyrenees the other day, and last week almost stepped on a newborn deer fawn that was probably only a couple hours old.
MALT: Tell us about your experience working with landowners.
Lucas: All of the landowners that MALT works with that I have met so far are great. They are very friendly and all clearly have a passion for their land and for conservation. I have really enjoyed learning the histories of their properties and all the stories they have about everything from wildlife to crazy weather to the original homesteaders that came before them.
MALT: What are you looking forward to as you continue working with MALT this summer?
Lucas: I think the thing I am most looking forward to is continuing to familiarize myself with the region by getting to go to so many beautiful places. I have moved many times in the past couple of years, and everywhere I go I love getting the lay of the land and feeling like I know and understand a place and its people. This job gives me a pretty awesome opportunity to do just that.
MALT: Tell us about your future plans.
Lucas: I don’t have anything firm lined up yet, but I will almost certainly end up in graduate school some time in 2022. Until then I will keep trying to figure out the next step after MALT, hopefully being somewhere that I can ski in the winter!
MALT: Thank you Lucas for all your great work!
While MALT’s stewardship activities are most visible during the summer season, stewardship happens throughout the year. MALT staff members build and maintain relationships with its Conservation Easement landowners and helps to connect them with other conservation professionals such as foresters, weed mitigation specialists and forest restoration experts. MALT also responds to landowner requests related to proposed activities and manages and maintains its fee-owned properties.