Keeping the Valley Green?
The “Sagebrush Rebellion- Done Right,” as Douglas County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen calls it, has captured the interest of people across the West. The concept also has new believers in states like Delaware and Pennsylvania – though easterners tend to be more interested in preserving historical sites than in wildlife habitat and open space issues.
The idea is that the BLM could sell land in intense growth areas like the Las Vegas Valley in Clark County and use the money to pay farmers and ranchers not to develop their land in critical conservation areas like the Carson Valley and Humboldt County’s Paradise Valley.
Etchegoyhen, who represents Douglas County’s interests, Ame Hellman of the American Land Conservancy and John Singlaub of the Carson City District Office of the Bureau of Land Management spoke to an almost sell-out crowd Wednesday at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Carson Valley Country Club.
The three are fine-tuning the process through which area ranchers and farmers can sell the rights to develop all or even parts of their land to the BLM, yet still own and operate their agricultural businesses, and pass the land and businesses on to their children.
The only catch is that the agreement becomes a conservation easement on their deeds, banning future development on the properties. A ranch without development rights will always be agricultural open space, it cannot eventually become a strip mall or a residential subdivision.
“People will want to give serious consideration to the rights they sell,” Singlaub said Thursday. “If they think their children may want to build a house on their property, they should keep a few acres back, so that would be possible.”
One of the most frequently asked questions was who will oversee the properties once development rights are removed from the land.
“The county would check for stipulations on the patents when people apply for building permits,” Singlaub said. “For example, if the Hussmans (David and Kathi of Gardnerville) want to someday donate property to the Douglas Family Support Council, they would reserve that piece.
“This is not a cookie cutter program, each property is considered separately and each agreement will be unique.”
Some questions were raised concerning water rights.
“The BLM doesn’t want the water rights,” Singlaub said. “The interest is in keeping the valleys green. The water stays with the land.”
Singlaub said the next step in the process is determine critical areas in Douglas County to begin acquiring the development rights.
“We want to protect those areas that aren’t in receiving zones but are experiencing the most development pressure,” he said. “Then there are areas of flood plain and wildlife habitat. Once this really starts rolling, it’s important that we know where we’re going.”
The money earned from sales of BLM lands must stay in the states of origin, Singlaub said.
“We have to keep the exchanges within the state, unless there’s an act of congress,” he said. “So if we sell land to accommodate community expansion in Las Vegas and industrial growth in the Pioche and Caliente areas of Lincoln County, the money stays in Nevada. We’re selling some land in the industrial area of Fernley and that money will probably be exchanged for development rights on the Walker River in Lyon and Douglas counties in Hoye Canyon.”
Singlaub said the non-profit American Land Conservancy facilitates the exchanges by putting earnest money down to lock the deals in.
“They co-ordinate the action – help us identify the lands we want and the lands we want to get rid of, do the land clearances we need before we can transfer (ownership from the federal government). They assess the cultural values and threats to endangered species and have the appraisals done,” Singlaub said. “They do the things we don’t have the time or personnel to do. “
Ame Hellman, an attorney who is based for the American Land Conservancy”s Minden office, said the idea was to insure sustainable communities throughout a state which is suffering from major stresses from growth.
“It’s also the first opportunity to do something in Nevada Tom Baker (an aide to Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who was present at the chamber luncheon) would call ‘politically correct,” Hellman said.
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