Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 8:38 am
By CHRIS PETERSON Hungry Horse News |
Two men with long and strong ties to the Flathead Valley were recently recognized by the Flathead Land Trust for their conservation efforts.
Bill Dakin and Ken Siderius were recently given leadership awards by the organization, which strives to protect critical farm, timberland and wildlife habitat in the valley through voluntary conservation easements.
Dakin was born in Conrad and moved to Columbia Falls when he was four. After high school, Dakin completed a bachelor’s in history at Montana State University and a master’s in anthropology at the University of Montana.
His connection to the land came from years of working on the road crew in Glacier National Park. Dakin became a Realtor in the 1990s and went on to start his own real estate company in Columbia Falls, ReMax Mountain View. He also served on the Flathead County Planning Board in the mid-1980s, which opened his eyes to conservation needs in the Flathead.
Dakin said he quickly learned that land conservation through government regulation was extremely unpopular, but landowners with a conservation ethic were willing to help if they had a way to preserve their income and livelihood while still protecting the land.
A conservation easements was the vehicle to do that — a landowner could donate the value of the development rights of the property, or an organization like the Flathead Land Trus could purchase the development rights, usually by leveraging funding from larger organizations or government entities. A donation to the nonprofit is tax deductible.
“Legacy landowners could get a retirement cushion or financial incentive and continue to see their land farmed,” Dakin said.
Siderius is the second oldest of 13 children. His family came to the Flathead in 1907 and settled in Somers. His father bucked railroad ties for a living, but they also had a small dairy farm. Siderius and his brothers first slept in an unheated milk house and later in an unheated bunkhouse. The family lived off the land and grew to appreciate its value.
“The quickest way to get into trouble with my father was to abuse wildlife or livestock,” Siderius said.
Siderius completed a master’s in education at MSU and had a long career as a teacher and administrator at Miles City, Bozeman, Pelican, Alaska, and Flathead High School.
“It’s surprising how much better your luck is if you work hard,” he said.
His brothers Chuck and Tom and their families are successful farmers in the Lower Valley and have placed 800 key acres of farmland near the Flathead River under conservation easements.
Siderius recalled victories and defeats for conservation in the valley. He opposed the Kerr Dam, which raised the level of Flathead Lake by 11 feet and wiped out farmland and beach front on the north shore.
“There used to be a beautiful sand beach from Somers to Bigfork,” he said.
The Flathead Land Trust has protected more than 13,000 acres of private land since 1985, but the effort hasn’t always been easy. The organization had just a few thousand dollars in the bank in the early 2000s, but land donations from Loren Kreck of Columbia Falls and Cal Tassinari of Condon raised badly needed funds.
About the same time, a building boom turned thousands of acres of prime farmland into subdivisions — by one estimate, an acre of farmland was converted to residential use every hour in 2004 and 2005.
“It was a continuous vector of appreciation in land values that was hard to resist,” Dakin said.
Converting prime farmland to residential use isn’t helping the world’s ability to feed growing population, Dakin said.
“I look at it as a short-sighted thing in the big picture,” he said. “In some ways, it’s kind of a criminal thing to do.”
With numerous farmers and large landowners who still recognize the value of the valley’s open spaces, Siderius and Dakin remain optimistic about the future.
The Flathead Land Trust continues to conserve private lands along the Flathead River through its River to Lake Initiative, which targets key parcels along the river corridor for agriculture, timber and wildlife values.
One of the largest easements in the Columbia Falls area came from Glenn and Hazel Johnston, who put 700 acres of land off Columbia Falls Stage Road into a conservation easement in 2007. Siderius recalled when beavers and muskrats were farmed in a fenced-in wetland on the Johnston’s property.
Flathead Land Trust executive director Paul Travis said the organization expects to close deals on other key river parcels this year or next. The organization now has more than 300 members and is expanding its scope to include more critical valley farmlands. For more information, visit online at www.flatheadlandtrust.org.