Trust Montana is a state-wide land trust held up by a coalition of land stewards from the diverse worlds of affordable housing, economic development, conservation, ag land preservation, and historic preservation. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Trust Montana has the capacity to function as a Community Land Trust (CLT) and hold both preservation and conservation easements in small communities around the state that do not have their own regional land trusts.
Trust Montana’s Mission and Vision
Trust Montana’s Vision is to hold selected lands within the state in trust and to steward them, in perpetuity, for a variety of vital community needs. Its Mission is to develop coalitions of mutual support and shared resources among housing, conservation, farming, and historic preservation advocacy groups in order to better and more holistically protect and preserve Montana’s unique natural, cultural, agricultural and historic landscapes, communities and properties for the long lasting health and benefit of all Montanans.
Trust Montana’s Current Focus Areas
Trust Montana’s central efforts are currently two-pronged: 1.) To make the Trust fully functioning as a land-holding land-steward in Montana; and, 2.) To create a Trust Montana Coalition of land stewards that collectively advocate for holistic community land use in ways similar to those adopted 25 years ago by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition.
Land as the Base
In its coalition building, Trust Montana argues for the advisability of permanently removing some lands from the speculative market in order to ensure permanent and affordable access for a broad range of Montana citizens. This is especially important in augmenting the structure and values of viable local food systems. It is a challenging job to build alliances among the different land stewards in the state. We hope the shared interest of equitable access to land strikes a special chord of affinity between conservationists, affordable housing advocates, and farmers and agricultural advocacy groups.
The Vermont Model
The ethic of localism and planned growth (see: http://www.vhcb.org/
Of special note, in 1986, Vermont had a state budget surplus, much like Montana has today. A coalition that included the Nature Conservancy, the Vermont Land Trust, and a number of affordable housing advocates came together to lobby the State for a dedicated fund to support permanent land stewardship efforts. This coalition’s seminal work resulted in the establishment of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). It was an amazing show of cooperation (“a conspiracy of good will” some called it at the time), and as one state legislator remarked, “It was the first time I saw a farmer and a low income advocate lobbying for the same bill.”
Since then, as cited on the VHCB’s website, it “… has awarded nearly $260 million to nonprofit housing and conservation organizations, towns, municipalities and state agencies to develop nearly 1,500 projects in 220 towns. This investment has directly leveraged approximately $860 million from other private and public sources and resulted in the creation of more than 10,500 affordable homes, the conservation of 390,740 acres of agricultural and recreational lands and natural areas, and the restoration of 56 historic community buildings for public use. Many VHCB housing awards have supported housing in buildings eligible, nominated or listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places. Historic barns and farmhouses and archeological sites are located on many farms conserved with VHCB funding.”
Not in Montana?
We know that our hope to build a state-wide cooperative effort here in Montana seems truly quixotic to many, but those in the burgeoning Trust Montana coalition believe that wildland conservation, agricultural land preservation, historic preservation, and the permanent dedication of suitable land to affordable workforce housing are all vital and interrelated community needs of special importance to Montana’s social and civic health — its cultural, historical, and economic heritage. As Professor John Elder put it at a Vermont Land Trust annual meeting in 1996, “Our current status as a place where beautiful wildlands surround healthy villages and a dynamic culture is something that has been bequeathed to us through an accident of history. Ours is not a task of preserving a pastoral relic, but of recognizing the present balance and figuring out how to make our own accommodations within the flux.”
Sometimes we fear that we Montanans are now living in a dispiritingly seductive moment of political cynicism – one that tempts us to despair our political leadership’s ability to embrace holistic land stewardship or our state’s natural inheritance as primary values. Oddly now, though, it may be an optimal time to plant a seed that could germinate and later grow to flourish in a potentially more congenial political landscape. It has happened at other times in other places and Montana certainly deserves no less.
Trust Montana will be an effort molded by its participant members. Building the initial Coalition is the task at hand.
For more information about Trust Montana, follow the links below: