By Jill Davies, Director, Sustainable Living Systems
I am submitting our report: “Bitterroot Valley Food System Community Food Project – Assessment and Planning”, dated 2009, for the record in the Legacy Ranch Subdivision decision making process. This report documents the steady loss of agricultural lands in Ravalli County to development projects over the past four decades and the corresponding steep decline in agricultural production.
Sustainable Living Systems is opposed to the Legacy Ranch Subdivision proposal. Our focus is to build a more sustainable, local food production and supply system that fosters the economic health of our communities and farms, the social and physical health of our citizens, and the environmental health of our valley. This will increase community food security, meaning, all people in the community at all times have access to safe, healthy, and affordable food through a sustainable food system. It will also increase the economic value of diversified farming in the valley.
The proposed Legacy Ranch Subdivision both directly and indirectly impacts agriculture in Ravalli County. Under the proposal, approximately 328 acres of good agricultural land are slated for development of residential lots and associated infrastructure. Once developed, the opportunity for agricultural operations on this land will be irrevocably lost. The increased traffic and other activities associated with the proposed subdivision will likely cause conflicts with existing agricultural operations further impacting the ability of local farmers and ranchers to maintain viable agricultural livelihoods in the County. Finally, as agricultural land is developed and taken out of production, essential agricultural support services lack customers to maintain their businesses and they tend to relocate or go out of business. This impacts existing local farmer and ranchers by forcing them to travel farther to reach the services and supplies they need to maintain the viability of their business and affects the overall farm economy of the valley.
Ravalli County is required to consider all impacts that a proposed subdivision has on agriculture within the County. The State of Montana has a unique constitutional provision that reflects our state’s agricultural heritage, requiring that the Montana Legislature “protect, enhance, and develop all of agriculture.” The Montana Code is filled with a myriad of legislative enactments aimed at this very goal, including provisions in our planning and subdivision statutes. The Montana Subdivision & Platting Act (MSPA) specifically requires that a local government review and mitigate a subdivision’s “impacts on agriculture.” When Montana law speaks of “agriculture,” it does so in the broadest sense to ensure that the overall character and resources of a community are protected. (1)
Sustainable Living Systems believes that the proposal fails to adequately address and mitigate both the direct and indirect impacts to agriculture. The proposed subdivision is on 328 acres of good agricultural land, of which 234 acres are designated as of farmland of local importance, 69 acres are designated as farmland of statewide importance and 25 acres are designated as prime farmland. (2)
The Legacy Ranch subdivision proposal does not mitigate the loss of this agricultural land, nor does it evaluate the impact of the project on the agricultural infrastructure and agricultural operations that currently exist in the valley today.
Agriculture is an important part of both the heritage and economy of Ravalli County. As detailed in our Assessment Report, the continued loss of agricultural lands has had an ongoing negative impact on the heritage of farming and ranching in the valley and on the continued viability of agriculture as an economic driver in the community for nearly three decades. Since this proposed subdivision continues that legacy of sacrificing prime farmland for the sake of residential development, we believe that the Board of County Commissioners should deny this proposal. We hope you are listening.
References: (1) Report: Ag Protection in Montana: Local Planning, Regulation, and Incentives, Spring 2012, Land Use Clinic, U of M, School of Law; (2) NRCS – Wet Soil Survey, NCSS, 3/19/2013