Etchegoyhen hired by conservation group |

Etchegoyhen hired by conservation group

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen has accepted an offer to become the American Land Conservancy’s Nevada director.

Etchegoyhen confirmed Monday that he signed a one-year contract for part-time work with the group, which promotes land transfers and other transactions that keep ecologically sensitive property undeveloped. He wouldn’t say what the job pays.

“This seems like a logical step in what I’ve been doing for the last 29 years,” said Etchegoyhen, 41. “It would break my heart in 20 years if I had this opportunity and didn’t take it.”

Etchegoyhen is serving his second county commission term, which expires in 2002. He said he has no plans to leave the commission but will scale back his day-to-day duties as manager of the Mack Ranch in Minden, where he has worked since he was a teen-ager.

The American Land Conservancy is based in San Francisco. Previously, Gardnerville resident Ame Hellman served as vice president and handled Nevada affairs for the group, but she resigned in 1999 and is now working for The Nature Conservancy, another conservation-oriented group. Hellman is also chairwoman of the Douglas County Planning Commission.

Etchegoyhen couldn’t give a specific description of his duties with the American Land Conservancy but said he doesn’t think it will conflict with his commission work.

“No more so than in the past, when Douglas County has had licensed real estate brokers on the board,” he said. “Maybe there’s a perceived conflict. Everybody has known my interest in ranch land preservation. It’s what I’ve been trying to accomplish as a commissioner.”

He said he will seek an opinion from the state ethics commission, a process Hellman also went through, and will disclose his affiliation if a questionable vote arises.

Etchegoyhen has worked with a semi-private coalition of Douglas County ranchers, residents and business people that is now preparing a campaign in support of a quarter-cent sales tax hike that could be used to buy development rights, keeping Carson Valley ranch land open.

He is a proponent of the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange, a proposal in which federal land in Lincoln County would be sold and the proceeds used to preserve ranch land in Douglas County. The deal has been stalled, but Etchegoyhen thinks he might be able to move it along as an employee of the American Land Conservancy.

He said he hasn’t considered whether the new job will make this his last term on the county commission, but hinted it could develop into a career.

“I think it’s fabulous to be able to get paid for something I probably would have done for free anyway,” said Etchegoyhen. “I’d love to do this the rest of my life.”

Etchegoyhen said the job materialized in May after conversations with Harriet Burgess, the American Land Conservancy’s president. A “turning point,” said Etchegoyhen, occurred during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. when he, Burgess and former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt discussed federal land exchanges, which the Land Conservancy sometimes coordinates.

“(Laxalt’s) feeling was that it was a wonderful project and effort, and his excitement really pushed me over the edge to realize this is something I want to work on,” said Etchegoyhen.

“This is a life decision for me. I’m going to be busier than crazy, but it’s my love, so there we go.”