Urban Cowboys: Gallatin County Leads Rural Development

Urban Cowboys: Gallatin County Leads Rural Development

Henning, Becky
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Drive almost anywhere around the valley and what do you see? From North 19th to Belgrade, new subdivisions and big-box stores dominate the once-pristine landscape. It’s obvious that Gallatin County is being developed, but a recent American Farmland Trust study revealed just how rapidly it’s happening. Concrete is eating the area’s wide-open spaces faster than any other county in the Rocky Mountain West.

The study surveyed prime ranch and farm lands in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, ranking counties from lowest to highest by locating rural areas that, in the next 20 years, are anticipated to increase to suburban-level density. Montana counties constituted the top three, and Gallatin County ranked number one, expected to lose some 2,000 acres a year.

This movement fits nationwide trends. The United States developed land 51% faster in the '90s than the '80s, while population grew by only 17%. What this means is that the sprawling development isn’t even necessary—ranchettes, vacation cabins, and second homes are what’s eating up the landscape, not the dwellings used by full-time residents.

But, we aren’t powerless to watch 11% of our county’s farms and ranches be subdivided and paved over. We can help by: buying local produce and meat to help Gallatin County farmers and ranchers stay in business; supporting local conservation groups like Gallatin Valley Land Trust; and helping efforts like the Open Space Grant Program, which awards grants to land owners in return for conservation easements.

For more information about the American Farmland Trust study or the Open Space Grant Program, contact Gallatin Valley Land Trust at (406) 581-8404, or www.gvlt.org.
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