Montana Association of Land Trusts
Private Land Conservation
PO Box 892
Helena, MT 59624
Conservation Conversations is a 12-part series of interviews from the Montana Association of Land Trusts that seeks to present a deeper and broader understanding of private land conservation and the work of Montana’s land trusts. Each month in 2010, a leader within the Montana land trust community will voice their personal perspectives about the value private land conservation brings to Montana’s landscape, to the people of Montana and Montana’s economy. The interviews are conducted by Glenn Marx, executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. This is number two in the series.
Eva Patten and her husband, Duncan, have lived in the Bozeman area for 15 years, and Black Butte Ranch, located south in the Gallatin Valley near Yellowstone Park, has been in Duncan’s family for decades. Eva was a longtime resident of Arizona, and was a self-described “housewife” when she began working on regional conservation issues for the League of Women Voters. She volunteered much of her time, writing grants, serving on commissions and eventually started a consulting business in public relations for land management and conservation government agencies. She later worked for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, and helped lead an initiative to create a state program to fund conservation in Arizona. She also continues to serve on the Grand Canyon Trust Board of Directors. In Bozeman, Eva has been steadily engaged in conservation projects. She served on the committee for “Vote Yes Open Space,” the Gallatin County Open Space Bond Program campaign group, she is a former board president of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, continues to be involved in the Montana Outdoor Science School and in BWAGs, a women’s outdoor activity group in Bozeman. In 2009, she was named Woman of the Year in Bozeman.
Q: We’ll get to Montana in a minute, but let’s start in Arizona, where you have something in common with Barry Goldwater.
A: You know, he was a good conservationist. I was very fortunate to get to know Barry Goldwater when he was one of our honorary chairs for our conservation initiative campaign.
Q: And back in 1998 you and Senator Goldwater were also inaugural members inducted into the Arizona Outdoor Hall of Fame.
A: That’s right! That was pretty exciting, actually. There were lots of deserving people but the chair of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission really pushed for me, and that’s how I was lucky enough to be inducted that year. The nomination was a result of the conservation funding initiative, which really was an exciting project. The funding has continued to this day, and it has made a huge difference for trails, conservation easements, habitat protection, parks and historic preservation practices.
Q: One consistent priority with you over the years seems to be a determination to get people outside to experience and enjoy the outdoors. Why is the outdoors important to you, and why do you think it is important to them?
A: I think it starts as a personal history with our family. Our kids were always outdoors, always running around, always doing the things you read about in “Last Child in the Woods” (“Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv), playing alone, building forts, playing in a stream, and it all had such an impact on their lives. It has made them the adults that they are. So you see how important those kinds of opportunities are. The outdoors teaches self-reliance, teaches stewardship for land, and many other things.
What I see is that if people, as they grow up, haven’t had an introduction to nature and the outdoors, why would they care about nature? Why would they care about national parks? About public lands? About wildlife? About open lands? So the land is just going to be lost if we have a nation that has forgotten what it’s like to hike in the woods and appreciate the outdoors.
Q: Speaking of the outdoors, what’s your involvement in the Montana Outdoor Science School?
A: I’m proud to say that MOSS (Montana Outdoor Science School) recently celebrated its 15th anniversary at our house. MOSS started mainly with three moms who had science backgrounds, and did outdoor education with their kids. They ran little summer camps, and it grew into expanded summer outdoor activities for kids.
Over the years, MOSS has done more and more with schools, with a wider group of kids. When you run small summer camps, you tend to get kids whose parents understand and appreciate the outdoors, and with MOSS a goal is to broaden that audience to kids who may not have that kind of outdoor background. So more and more, MOSS works with schools and teaches outdoor science and biology.
What I see, through MOSS, is that kids learn to love the outdoors. You’re also getting kids who may not do that well in the classroom, but they absolutely excel…at enjoying, fitting in and appreciating the outdoors. So you’re reaching out to a child on a different level than you do in the classroom, and you’re giving those kids an experience that for them is really, really positive and helps in building their self-esteem and character.
Q: What are your personal favorite types of outdoor recreation?
A: Hiking is my favorite. There’s an organization in Bozeman named BWAGs (Bee-Wags), a group of women who like to hike and ski. It becomes a big part of your social life, part of community, and doing something fun. A big part of the fun is getting out - enjoying nature with friends. Plus you never know what you’re going to see…like last Tuesday, when I saw two moose. Hiking is just part of my being and helps me stay on an even keel, I’d say.
Q: You mentioned BWAGs (imported from New Zealand, the Bishopdale Women’s Activity Groups were created “for women to have fun and companionship and to learn new and interesting activities”) in Bozeman. How did you get started in BWAGs and what all does BWAGs do?
A: The BWAGs is a very informal group - it’s not some grand 501(c)3 or anything like that. We’re just people who like to get outdoors and cross country ski and hike and it’s open to anybody who likes to do that kind of thing…as long as you’re female (laughs).
We meet in the parking lot of the museum, we bring a lunch, we decide where we want to go, and off we go. We’ve been to Yellowstone Park, to southern Utah, but mostly it’s local hikes in the Bridgers and the Hyalites here in the Gallatin area. We enjoy the company and we enjoy the outdoors.
Q: Do you have a favorite trail or a favorite place to hike?
A: Well, for me, it’s around the ranch (Black Butte Ranch). We are so lucky there - we border the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area and Yellowstone National Park, and we are fortunate to have so much wildlife on and around our ranch.
Q: In your mind, what makes the ranch so special?
A: Well, it’s located north of West Yellowstone, off Highway 191, and it’s surrounded by public land. My father-in-law bought the ranch in the early 1950s. Back then it was out in the middle of nowhere, and it was property that really didn’t have a whole lot of value at the time. Duncan’s folks moved to the ranch from Michigan, and lived there until, well, until they died. It’s especially important to us as a family gathering place.
Q: Since 1997, you’ve had a conservation easement on the Black Butte Ranch. Why did you opt to go that route?
A: Well, because it’s part of my husband’s and my philosophy. From the start, we thought a conservation easement was a good idea for the ranch because it’s such a special piece of property. Just down the highway, one of the ranches turned over and cabins were built right along the Gallatin River. We could do that too! Someone could eventually do that on our place. No one in our family wants to see that happen.
So the goal of the family - everyone in the family - was the same…no one wanted to see the ranch change. Still, we gave it a lot of thought. It took about three years for family members to gain a real understanding of conservation easements. It was not a snap decision. Everyone (in the family) is on board, everyone understands what it means to have a conservation easement on the ranch. When it came right down it, everyone signed on and was really happy to do it. And everyone is still happy the easement’s there.
Q: One of the things you did when you first arrived full-time in Bozeman was serve on the campaign committee for the Gallatin County Open Space Bond campaign. How do you see the open space bond program working here in Gallatin County?
A: The Open Space Program has made a huge difference. It has been fabulous here in Gallatin County. Because the program is primarily agriculturally oriented, it has made a huge difference in what the land trusts can do. Most farmers or ranchers in this area can’t afford to donate a conservation easement, so the open space bond funds help. The remainder of the money for the easement comes from federal grants and landowner donations so this bond money goes a long way in keeping large areas in open space. Along with being used for matching funds, the open space bond funds help pay stewardship costs…a major help for some conservation easement donors. The Gallatin Valley Land Trust negotiates and monitors most of these easements.
The open lands program has been wonderful. And it has been gratifying to see in places like Churchill and Amsterdam how one farmer or rancher will learn what a conservation easement is and sign on. Then neighbors and relatives learn about the opportunity, which results in more easements in that area, and that is saving lots of good agricultural land.
But the program is running out of money, and it’s time to do another open space bond. There’s maybe two years left on the current funding. But because of the economy, bonding concerns and other factors, an open space bond election may not happen. If it doesn’t that will have a big impact on the land and the land trust.
Q: It’s fairly easy to look at an open land bond program and see its value from a conservation perspective. But don’t open land bond programs also benefit communities?
A: Definitely. For instance, people drive over Gooch Hill Road and say, “This is so beautiful, I truly enjoy looking at this.” So instead of seeing subdivision after subdivision, they’re seeing open land.
Economically, it gives diversity to a whole community. We still have an agriculture component, which has a rich history in the Gallatin Valley. You tie that in with the university, the retirees, resort community aspect and we’re not just one economy. So that benefits everybody.
Q: You’ve been working with Gallatin Valley Land Trust since around 1995. How do you think the work of land trusts has changed in the past 15 years, and where do you think private land conservation is going in the future?
A: GVLT is unique in one way because it is so community centered, in part because of the trails program. There’s the conservation easement component and the trails component, but it’s a true community organization because of the trails. I see that as a huge part of the land trust here, one that can continue far into the future. Land trusts across the country, from what I understand, are looking for ways to be more community based, and are expanding into areas such as housing trusts, but GVLT has always been community based.
Q: Various people approach conservation from various ways. How would you describe your overall approach to conservation?
A: I think you put your own personality into what you do, and while I admire the fiery idealists, my approach is much more collaborative. I learned early on that there really are a lot of other ideas, some way on this side and some way on that side. But there’s a lot of talking that needs to be done, of stepping inside someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. That helps everyone.
We’ve seen this huge growth in the conservation arena by working people who live on the land, talking problems through and finding solutions that win for everybody. Collaboration doesn’t always work, but it’s always worth a shot.
Q: Final question. You have a long history in conservation and an obvious passion for it. Why is private land conservation so important to you?
A: Because it’s farming. It’s open lands. It’s forests. It’s ranching. It’s wildlife habitat. It’s all those. And more.