Bob Kiesling

Saving Land Outside the System

Recorded: April 22, 2014

Native Montanan, Bob Kiesling is a long time conservationist and former employee of the Nature Conservancy. Bob implemented a new concept in private land acquisition intended to conserve land in the private domain. He sells private ranches and using conservation "tools" he works with the owners to protect the land from future development. These "legacy" ranches are passed down to future generations. Protections on vast acreages of private land effectively conserve habitat for native flora and fauna.

As founder and/or director of several non-profit organizations and several small businesses, Bob Kiesling has managed a diverse array of people and projects over the past 33 years. With degrees in Social Science and Environmental Science, he has been involved in land conservation since the late 1970s. From 1979 to 1990 Bob was founding director of the Big Sky Field Office of the Nature Conservancy in Montana and Wyoming. Bob is skilled in networking within wide circles of business professionals, academics, agency personnel and non-profit organization leaders in the Rocky Mountain region.

Bob is a member, supporter and conservation easement donor of The Prickly Pear Land Trust Member of Five Valleys Land Trust, Land Trust Alliance, Montana Land Reliance, Montana Audubon Society and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and a lifetime member of The Nature Conservancy.

Since the 1990s, Bob’s expertise in land conservation and real estate continued to be a theme. In 2009 he co-founded Live Water Properties, LLC. He also is adjunct faculty at the University of Montana Environmental Studies Department.

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Bob Kiesling:  I am a native Montanan, sometimes that’s helpful if you’re working in the context of the state of Montana, so I was born and raised there. And then at some point after spending a lot of time on the road and looking around post college. I clicked my heels in a Dorothy like fashion and said, “There’s no place like home.” So I went back to Montana and enrolled in graduate school in the then nascent environmental sciences masters program. So my early teeth coming out of that program were cut in the trenches doing slug fest, environmental activism working on public policy, being a critic of terrible public policies having to do with the environment and started to think about well, what am I going to do next?

I began to think, what’s going on here is that we have right now two traditional ways of looking at land conservation. One of them is get the government to do it, state, federal, local government. Turn to the government, that’s the source for getting land conserved and the important stuff taken care of. The other is through the nonprofit sector, outfits like the Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, The Land Trust [Alliance] and so on. But that doesn’t go far enough because really, there’s so much privately owned land out there that you cannot expect the government to simply write checks to get the good stuff. You cannot expect the nonprofit sector to go out there and take care of all of this important stuff because in the aggregate, the nonprofits don’t have enough resources to get the job done.

So I began to think, surely there are ways that we can develop even more tools and contribute to ongoing conservation by developing new techniques, new tools and new practices. In this case, a couple of partners and I started a – what I would describe as the first conservation real estate brokerage. I know that that sounds oxymoronic because you cannot pair conservation and real estate broker in the same phrase and expect it to be believable, but that’s in fact what we did. We started a company, the idea of which was to create a niche in using private sector land ownership, land owners, means, market transactions and so on to come at the problem of conservation from yet another angle, a long range plan.

Think about it because what your science is going to tell you is that some of these occurrences are going to be on these landscapes owned by different, or managed by different entities. You have to come at it from the standpoint of how are we going to plan and develop relationships and so on for the long haul here and enlist the participation of these entities such that that mission becomes woven into the fabric of society in our institutions. And that was, that was a watershed point for me, and in fact that’s turned out to be not just exceptional advice but really the only logical way that you can come at this.

So the long and short of it is, that instead of just going to the nonprofit approach here and looking at the resources for doing conservation, which are heavily philanthropic, that’s really that small part of the pie. If you go to the private sector and you’re looking at private wealth and the ability to poke some money into land conservation, now we’re talking about a resource pool that’s this deep. And so we begin to develop business like approaches to getting conservation done in this fashion. And that is what I do to this date, matchmaking.

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