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Ranchers still waiting for land transfer rights deal

by Nancy Hamlett

After more than two years, the fate of a highly anticipated property development rights transfer for the Hussman ranch has yet to be determined.

David Hussman, the fourth generation of his family to farm the land, initiated the procedure to sell or transfer the development rights on the property, south of Gardnerville on Highway 395, in exchange for conservation easements on the historic ranch.

First came the careful examination of the plan by attorneys and then the agonizing wait for the results of an appraisal. According to Hussman, the plan was a win-win situation for the family’s ranching concerns and Douglas County residents because it would preserve a small portion of Douglas County’s open space and provide needed capital for ranching.

“We received the appraisal in June (2000,) and we thought it was very satisfactory,” said Hussman. “However, the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange collapsed. We had nothing left to work with.”

The Lincoln-Douglas Exchange allowed for the sale of BLM land in Lincoln County to buy agricultural easements protecting Douglas County land from development. According to John Singlaub, district manager for the Bureau of Land Management, the disappointment of the plan’s demise was overshadowed by the possible inclusion of Hussman’s property in the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act process. The act states that 85 percent of the purchase price of BLM lands in Clark County are to be used to purchase environmentally sensitive land throughout Nevada. The Hussman ranch seemed a natural choice for the funds.

“We tried to get the Hussman property included in the second round (of acquisitions,) but we were unable to do so,” said Singlaub. “The third round of Southern Nevada bill money will be available in May. The Hussmans are the first in line.”

Hussman isn’t harboring any false hopes.

“The BLM could say that because of the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange, we’ve been waiting the longest,” he said. “We’re told we have first preference at this point, but nothing is final.”

Part of the hesitation for including Douglas County lands under the exchange is the recent defeat of the quarter-cent sales tax increase that would have been earmarked for the preservation of open space, said Singlaub.

“My superiors argue that if the taxpayers don’t want to protect Carson Valley, why should the federal government?” said Singlaub. “They want to put their efforts where local government and citizens have demonstrated clear support. I’m having a hard time convincing my superiors that the defeat of the sales tax increase was more of an anti-tax reaction than anti-open space.”

Hussman was surprised and shocked by the defeat of the sales tax initiative, saying that indicators gave it a good chance of passing.

“I have no idea why people voted against it, unless it was the attitude that it (development) is not bad enough here yet,” said Hussman.

Despite the setbacks, both Hussman and Singlaub feel confident that purchase of the conservation easements on the Hussman ranch will happen in the near future, with the sale of BLM land located adjacent to the commercial development in the north valley. Purchasers will be required to purchase an equal amount of conservation easements in Douglas County.

“The North Douglas plan offers more opportunity, and since the lands lay entirely in Douglas County, that will help with the process,” said Singlaub.