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Rural land iniative gets new name

by Christy Chalmers

The Bureau of Land Management has taken the Rural Land Initiative and replaced it with the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange.

The new name hasn’t changed the mission of the underlying process, which is to protect sensitive ranch land in the Carson Valley from development while giving private landowners some building space in Lincoln County, 98.2 percent of which is owned by the federal government.

Work on the exchange started in 1998, and two workshops held in May and June of this year drew several dozen people interested in developing ways to balance open space preservation with the economic realities of keeping it open.

The results of those workshops, which include comments and suggestions for preserving open space, will be published in a supplement in Saturday’s Record-Courier. Participants are enthusiastic about the pending exchange and possible future steps.

“We’re looking at a whole range of different things leading to protecting farmlands,” said John Singlaub, manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Carson City field office. “We’re trying to put together a whole toolbox of opportunities.”

n Pilot project. One of those is the conservation easement, which is the mechanism behind the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange. Gardnerville ranchers David and Kathi Hussman have volunteered to be the pilot property owners.

Their 560-acre ranch will be appraised for its agricultural value as well as its potential worth for residential or commercial use. The Hussmans will then be paid the difference in exchange for agreeing to keep the land open forever.

The easement will be funded with proceeds from the sale of federally-owned land in Lincoln County.

Singlaub said a contract for appraisal of the Hussman and Lincoln lands is being developed. Land around the Lincoln County communities of Caliente, Pioche and Panaca and some near Mesquite, which is in Clark County but close to Lincoln County, has been identified as suitable for the exchange.

“We have segregated the lands in Lincoln County. We are trying to get the landowners under contract and draft up conservation easements on this end,” he said. “We won’t know how much land is involved until the appraisals are done. It could be as much as 16,000 acres. We will balance it on both ends.”

– Name change. Though the arrangement started life as the Rural Lands Initiative and had gained good community recognition, Singlaub said federal officials considered the label inappropriate because initiatives usually reflect national policies.

“There has not been a national level effort to pursue land exchanges such as this,” said Singlaub. “We wanted to distinguish (Lincoln-Douglas) because it is a rather unique exchange.”

The exchange differs from the high-profile land swaps like the one involving the 46-acre Dreyfus Estate at Lake Tahoe and public land in Las Vegas. With the Dreyfus trade, the public will retain some land. With Lincoln-Douglas, the land involved will be in private hands, but the public – in this case, Carson Valley residents – is guaranteed the open land will stay open.

Already, leaders in Lyon and Elko counties have inquired about conducting similar transactions. Singlaub and others are hopeful the exchange will lead to one of several options for keeping private land undeveloped.

They cited the community support the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange has drawn.

“It’s great that it’s not the Douglas County government folks leading this issue,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who supports the concept wholeheartedly. “It’s community-based, and that’s what shows there is support for it. I suspect this is probably the number one issue in Douglas County. I think the citizens really want retention of open green space.”

– Future options. As a county commissioner, Etchegoyhen can reject or affirm the recommendations the steering committee will be presenting Aug. 5. Committee member Dave Bolick said the suggestions are not final, but the report that will be published Saturday offers a glimpse of the group’s findings.

Possible options involve asking the commission to provide some money for a coordinator to work on actions and priorities involving the exchange; establishing an open space district and seeking an advisory committee that would make recommendations on actions that require county approval.

“I’m looking forward to their report. I really am looking forward to it to see where we go from here,” said Etchegoyhen.

Another previously-discussed possibility is a land use plan that would be developed by Douglas County and BLM, identifying public lands that are ideal for private ownership. A joint plan would assist the BLM in pricing public land because officials could study surrounding land uses and price it accordingly.

For now, Singlaub said the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange will remain the priority.

“(Carson Valley) is really the place where there’s the most development pressure and we have the biggest loss of open space,” he said. “I know it’s dragged on, but the impetus from the Carson Valley workshops has been really beneficial.”

Kathi Hussman said the delay is OK with her.

“We realize that it’s going to be a very slow process, but that’s OK because it’s worth it,” she said. “I think one reason it has taken a little longer is we want to do it right and make sure anyone who scrutinizes it won’t find anything wrong with it. But we’re confident it’s going to happen.”