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Conservation easement protects acreage near Bad Rock Canyon

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | May 14, 2024 12:00 AM

The idea of placing family land under a conservation easement has been on Luci Yeat’s mind for 35 years. Now, a portion of that land is officially conserved in perpetuity. 

A total of 76.5 acres, just east of the Flathead River at Columbia Falls, was recently protected with a donated conservation easement with the Flathead Land Trust from Luci Yeats and her late husband, Dave.

“We’ve always been aware of the natural world and its importance,” Yeats said last week. “[Through this], I want to say I am proactive rather than reactive.”

Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a land owner and a land trust that permanently limits development in order to protect the land’s conservation values. The landowner still owns the land and completes the easement to ensure that the land will not be developed in the future. 

Known as Heart Rock Ridge, the property has a rich family agricultural heritage. Four generations of the Loeffler and Rogers families have maintained and lived on the parcel of land since the early 1900s. 

After the land was divided up between Luci and her two sisters in 2016, the three all live on the property, owning different homes and leasing out the farmland that continues to produce vegetables and hay, and support cattle. 

Four generations of the family have lived and worked on the land, and Yeats’ son is planning on moving back to the family land this year with his family. The easement, according to Yeats, will ensure that future generations have access to the same experience she did growing up.  

“As a child I roamed this land, and the larger acreage now owned by my sisters. I look forward to seeing my grandchildren look for shed antlers, see the first bluebirds of spring and watch the red-tailed hawks soaring overhead,” Yeats said in a press release. 

The easement, called the Heart Rock Ridge Conservation Easement, conserves historic and natural use for both people and wildlife, according to the Flathead Land Trust. The land, near Bad Rock Canyon, will not only preserve a family legacy but also protect a natural wildlife corridor.

Situated between many other protected lands, the property is well used by wildlife. From grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions and elk to at least 75 species of birds, the property is used by a myriad of animals, something Yeats respects and cares about. 

“I don’t want to see this property subdivided ever,” Yeats said. 

Concerns about growth and subdivisions were key to Yeats’ decision to place her land under the easement. Yeats and her sister, Shirely Folkwien, created the Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association in 2020 after a high-density development was proposed in their neighborhood. 

The group, according to the Flathead Land Trust, promotes the protection of natural resources, water quality, habitat and maintains the quality of life and economic vitality in the valley by encouraging land use planning for sensible growth.

“As land development in the Flathead Valley continues to accelerate, I would encourage any landowner to consider placing their property under a conservation easement. There is no better time than the present to conserve a part of our valley for future generations,” Yeats said. 

The process was easy enough, Yeats said, and the Flathead Land Trust walked her through each step. Yeats specifically mentioned the help of Laura Katzman, a land protection specialist with the Flathead Land Trust. 

“The conservation easement will conserve the important bird and wildlife habitat and the family’s legacy in perpetuity,” Katzman said in an email. 

There is a diversity of habitats on the easement as well. From riparian forests to wetlands to farmland, the land provides opportunities and security for a whole range of species, and for the family as well.

“I want people to know that I love this property that I own and grew up on,” Yeats said. “I don’t have a lot of control about what happens around me, but at least I can protect this small area.”


Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.