BLM approves rural land proposal feasibility study |

BLM approves rural land proposal feasibility study

by Sheila Gardner

A major piece of the so-called rural lands initiative puzzle has been put into place with federal approval of a feasibility study that confirms what Carson Valley supporters of the program have believed all along: Preserving open space makes economic and esthetic sense.

“We’re very excited,” said Ame Hellman, president of the American Land Conservancy. “Not only have we gotten approval, but it’s whole-hearted approval. We’re looking forward to getting down to the hard work.”

Federal Bureau of Land Management officials approved the feasibility study on Friday, leading the way for proponents of the rural lands initiative to begin the next step. Without BLM approval, the plan could not have progressed.

n Match made in heaven. “We’ll be moving forward on the appraisal process,” Hellman said. “We’re in the process of finding an appraiser for the Lincoln County lands and the Carson Valley conservation easements.”

Other work to be done includes environmental assessments, toxic reports and mineral reports for the land in Lincoln and Douglas counties.

“We’re hopeful that now we have approval, most of the participants will regenerate their commitment,” Hellman said. “These things do take time. That’s the nature of the beast. We are so fortunate to have this commitment from BLM. It’s not very often that you find a federal agency committing to purchase conservation easements. But it’s so unique in Nevada, you have so much public land. To be able to preserve the landscape without taking land off the tax rolls is a perfect fit. It’s a match made in heaven.”

Under the rural lands initiative program, rural counties in Nevada like Lincoln County, with low private land bases, can put more public land into private ownership in an effort to bolster community expansion and diversify their rural economies. Proceeds from the sale of those lands will be used to purchase conservation easements from willing ranchers in Carson Valley. The easements will permanently limit development, yet allow property owners to retain ownership and keep the property in agriculture.

“It’s awesome news,” said Jacques Etchegoyhen, a ranch manager and Douglas County commission chairman.

Along with Hellman and BLM Carson district manager John Singlaub, Etchegoyhen has pursued the rural lands initiative with Carson Valley property owners.

“I hope this is the first of what I sincerely hope will turn into many instances of symbiotic cooperation between federal and local entities for communities in the West,” Etchegoyhen said. “I think it provides a choice – and that’s the key word – or alternative to traditional development or clustering.”

David Hussman, whose 563-acre ranch is the first in Carson Valley to be considered for the proposal, said Tuesday he was encouraged by the feasibility study approval.

“Now that it’s been approved, something can happen in Lincoln County, and that means something can happen here,” Hussman said.

It’s been 18 months since Hussmans agreed to be the “guinea pigs,” but he said their faith hasn’t wavered.

“We grumbled about how long it was taking like everyone else, but we’re committed to this. We dreamed about doing it for a long time. I’m trying to take the long view. I’ve always wanted to be different. I didn’t want to build a subdivision like everyone else. My mother and father encouraged me to keep it going, too. This just fell in our laps.”

n Business as usual. Hussman said the rural lands initiative won’t change anything about the way he and his wife Kathi operate the ranch which has been in their family since 1861. The Hussmans raise sheep and cattle and grow alfalfa. He’s also aware that his neighbors in the ranching community are waiting to see what happens with the Hussman property.

“They’re watching us,” he said. “Taking the first step is always scary.”

The offered lands in Carson Valley include the Hussmans’ property, the Henningsen Dairy Ranch, 236 acres, and Galeppi Land and Livestock Ranch, 944 acres.

According to the feasibility report, public benefits of the exchange include prevention of development in floodplain, and control of urban sprawl. Acquisition of the conservation easements will protect open space and riparian habitat, reduce soil erosion and prevent increased demands on the water supply which would result if the approximately 1,600 acres in Carson Valley were developed into residential, commercial or industrial uses.

Hellman said she anticipated the selling price for conservation easements in a rapidly-developing area like Carson Valley could range anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the land value.

“It depends on the category you fall into,” she said. “The more control the fee title holder gives up, the more it is going to be worth.”

Hellman said officials have been working on the project in Lincoln County for 10 years compared to Carson Valley’s 18 months into the process.

“They’ve really done most of the groundwork,” she said. “I love the community-based planning that’s going on. We have a great team with the Ely and Carson districts’ BLM folks, the American Land Conservancy and the land owners. The better your team, the more successful you can be.

“Time is of the essence. Everything is moving so quickly in respect to people looking at our Valley. It’s so pristine. It would be too tempting for ranchers not to sell and they have every right to sell. We can move forward to create a program that can generate energy and build upon itself and always maintain the beauty of the Carson Valley.”