Sensitive deal should be bid

Unfortunate as it may be that Rep. Jim Gibbons and Sen. Harry Reid had to pull back legislation enacting a complicated land deal in Lincoln and Douglas counties, it's better to leave no questions unanswered on this sensitive issue.

The so-called Lincoln-Douglas Exchange would allow federal land in Lincoln County to be sold so that money would be available to buy "conservation easements" in Carson Valley.

The tricky process, going on for more than two years now, was edging toward conclusion when Gibbons and Reid pulled back the legislation. They did so for a good reason: The land sale in Lincoln County was set up to go to a single developer, Dennis Rider.

That's not the way things are done now. Federal land deals must go through a bidding process, which helps ensure taxpayers get top dollar for the land and that sweetheart deals aren't prearranged.

Gibbons and Reid should have known that, and the sale shouldn't have been arranged any other way. Better late than never, though. New legislation will be drawn to allow for bidding.

That will delay the exchange several more months, which is not a particular problem as long as the loose coalition putting together the deal remains intact. Everybody says things are fine; still, federal land swaps in general are controversial, and conservation easements in Carson Valley remain the subject of some skepticism.

The idea is to pay ranchers the difference between the agricultural value of the land and the potential value if it were developed. It's a way to preserve open space on private land.

The program would be entirely voluntary. Gardnerville ranchers David and Kathi Hussman have volunteered their 560-acre ranch as the first.

As long as estate taxes remain punitive and agricultural prices remain pitiful, it's the best plan yet for those who want to keep as much of the beauty of the Carson Valley as possible available to future generations.


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