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Ag workshop: Community must come up with options to save open space

by Sheila Gardner

Like a strand of barbed wire on the ground, the graph line just lies there. The category doesn’t matter – farm income, employment and earnings – the figures are going nowhere. It seems the only line that goes up on the chart represents expenses.

Farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, business leaders and community members met Saturday in the first of two workshops designed to discuss ways to retain Carson Valley’s wide open spaces and make the future feasible for farmers and ranchers.

“Your work is just beginning,” said Luther Propst of The Sonoran Institute, a non-profit group using the Carson Valley as one of two Western communities for a study on agricultural land protection.

“Your homework is to come back to the June 5 workshop where we’ll discuss ways to build support and implement an agricultural lands protection program,” Propst said at the end of the 4-1/2-hour session.

“All over the West, anywhere you are in the site of a mountain range, rapid change is occurring,” he said. “You can make a difference. Poor range management is a concern, but restoration is possible. Wide open spaces – the heart of the West – are economically and spiritually disappearing.”

Propst said five tools are critical to preserve open space: collaborative planning, estate planning, purchase of conservation easements, limited development and ranch diversification.

n Shared vision. “The first step is dialogue,” Propst said. “Folks need to get together to write up the framework for the future. The key characteristic is a locally-generated, locally-tailored shared vision for the future.”

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville Ranchos, discussed Assembly Bill 504, which he described as a potential source of funding to purchase development rights.

Hettrick said the legislation is based on a state law and will remove population minimum of 100,000 residents to accommodate smaller counties like Douglas where the population is a little over 40,000 residents.

If the legislation is passed, then goes to the voters for approval, it could add to the county’s sales tax by a quarter-cent. That should a generate a little more than $1 million a year in Douglas County, Hettrick said, which could be used to finance bonds for land purchases.

“We don’t need more taxes, we need relief,” said rancher Clarence Burr, who brought a home-made sign railing against estate taxes. “We need a credit.”

Hettrick pointed out that estate taxes are federally-mandated, and said that he and Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, would investigate Burr’s suggestion of introducing a resolution at the Nevada Legislature to urge support for repeal of the federal measure.

AB504 would “enable the people of the county to vote on what they think is right,” Hettrick said.

Lynne Sherrod, representing the Colorado Cattleman’s Agricultural Land Trust, said her family’s situation typifies that of many farming couples: “He does it, I talk about it.”

“One or more spouses have to work off the ranch,” Sherrod said. “Those partnerships are really critical. Less than 2 percent of us are in the production in agriculture, and we feed the other 98 percent in the United States and in the rest of the world.”

She brought up the challenge of getting ranchers involved “when they are so stubborn and so entrenched and so suspicious of change.”

“It’s that stick-to-it-iveness, however, that makes us care so much about who we are, that insures that the 2 percent figure doesn’t drop any lower,” Sherrod said. “This critical resource of humans is the fiber of our communities. There is a lot more impact when we pull together.”

n Diversify, diversify, diversify. Ben Alexander of The Sonoran Institute discussed business diversification for farms and ranches.

“In the last 10 years, Douglas County lost 25,000 acres of ranch land that are no longer in production. There has been a 25 percent decrease over time in the number of farms,” he said.

Farmers and ranchers are being encouraged to look at niche marketing, guest ranching and agri-tourism, Alexander said.

He cautioned ranchers not to roll out the welcome mat unless they are “good with people.”

“There is a clear niche for these businesses, but a marketing plan is critical,” Alexander said. “Start slow, so when you make mistakes, they don’t bury you.”

Approximately 80 people attended Saturday’s workshop and organizers hope they will return June 5 along with more residents. People who didn’t attend Saturday are welcome at the next session.

“We want to make sure that homeowners, residents, business people, ranchers – anyone who is interested – please come. This will be a collaborative effort, it’s a question of your community,” said Dan Kaffer, Western Nevada coordinator of the Resource Conservation and Development Inc. of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think it went well,” said rancher James Settelmeyer. “There was a good cross-section of people – they’re truly interested in preserving agriculture. I hope people who didn’t come today will come in June.”

Tom Baker, Sen. Richard Bryan’s rural area representative, said the workshop shows the way an area can build partnership.

“The energy for this must come from the local level,” said Baker, who chaired the session. “If that happens, the state, federal and county officials will be supportive.”