Family’s 1000-acre conservation easement deemed ‘priceless’

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Bruce Louden, left, and cousin Ben Louden stand at an access to Church Slough south of Kalispell. The Louden family recently donated 1,000 acres of their farmland to the Flathead Land Trust to be used as a conservation easement.

The Louden family has given the Flathead Land Trust the best holiday gift in recent memory — more than 1,000 acres of riverfront farmland as a conservation easement.

The longtime farm family has owned and operated various farms in the Lower Valley and began making the conservation easement agreements in July 2009. The last transactions were completed in October.

All told, 1,088 acres were transferred to the Flathead Land Trust in perpetuity as conservation easements.

“For generations to come, people will be thanking the Louden family for their foresight and conservation values,” Land Trust employee Laura Katzman said in a press release.

The easements will protect nearly four miles of Flathead River shoreline from development. They also protect large areas of fish, waterfowl and wildlife habitat. The scenic vistas the easements protect are priceless, Katzman said. It’s also important for the “eat local” movement.

“This part of Montana has the best soils in the state, so it’s good that people are thinking about conservation easements,” she added.

Bruce Louden, 62, said “it took quite a bit of convincing” from the Land Trust’s past president Ken Siderius. “We knew a couple neighbors who had them,” he said, including Ray Sanders, Rusby Seabaugh and Larry O’Connell.

“There’s so much development going on. We want to see it remain farmland,” he said, adding that the family wants to help preserve the Flathead River and Flathead Lake from erosion.

The Loudens have had a farming presence in the area since 1911, when Hugh Baird moved to the area from Nebraska, said his great-grandson Bruce Louden. Baird died a year or so later, but his son, Jacob Daniel, enlarged the family’s farms by buying more land.

Ben Louden, 60, is Bruce’s cousin. Ben owns land on Church Slough, which originally was homesteaded by Christopher Church.

“It took a lot of thinking,” Ben said. “It’s a big thing. ... Things change fairly rapidly. Look into the future 100 years — good luck.”

Ben has two allotted building spaces on his portion of the easement, while Bruce has three. These will allow their children to build on the land in the future if they wish.

Ben and Maureen Louden have three children: Megan Jorgenson, 35, of North Carolina; Sam Louden, 32, of Spokane, and Lindsay Louden, 29, of Seattle.

Bruce and Janice Louden have two children: Josh Louden, 28, and Rebecca Tolf, 31.

Bruce’s brother Ken and wife Patty have two children: Greg Louden, 28, and Carrie Fennesy, 26. 

Josh and Greg help out on their parents’ farms in spring and summer, Bruce said.

“We farm 1,300 total [acres],” Bruce said. That includes 725 of their own acreage. The rest is leased land. “It’s about too much. We hire a little bit of help at harvest and spring work.”

Bruce hopes his children retire to the area and continue the farming.

“We hope it does what it’s supposed to do and doesn’t put undue stress on our progeny,” Bruce said.

“It’s not really about us anyway,” Ben said. “A few generations down the road, they’ll probably be cussing us, but too bad.”

Bruce and Ken, 58, farm wheat, barley, peas, alfalfa and hay and also raise hogs.

Ben retired a few years ago, but keeps busy with his woodworking, including work on his house and an 18-ton boat he bought in Alaska.

Ben’s mother, Bernice “Bunny” Louden, 82, still lives in the Lower Valley, as does Bruce’s mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Louden, 82.

The Flathead Land Trust was assisted in completion of the Loudens’ project by a grant from Travelers for Open Land. Administered by the Montana Association of Land Trusts, the Travelers program collects voluntary assessments from tourists staying at member businesses, primarily hotels, dude ranches, etc. from across the state. The Flathead Land Trust was one of the first organizations to receive a grant of this in the state.

Flathead Land Trust was founded in 1985 as community members became interested in giving rural landowners another option for their land as the valley began seeing rapid growth. By 1988 the trust received its first donated conservation easement from Alice Sowerwine, a 157-acre parcel located on Fennon Sough in Lower Valley.

As of April 2010, Flathead Land Trust held 43 voluntary conservation easements protecting 9,621 acres across the Flathead Valley, according to the trust’s website. Those numbers don’t include the Loudens’ easements.

Reporter Caleb Soptelean may be reached at 758-4483 or by e-mail at csoptelean@dailyinterlake.com.

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