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Sen. Bryan supports land exchange

by Linda Hiller

If not now, when? If not us, who?

These are the questions that Carson Valley open space advocates asked themselves Wednesday on a 1-1/2 hour Valley tour, scheduled to coincide with Sen. Richard Bryan’s 11th annual Rural Nevada Tour.

The group of three dozen ranchers, government land specialists, politicians and representatives of the Open Space and Ag Land protection committee met first at the Hussman Ranch in the southern part of the Carson Valley to stand in the middle of 360 acres of farmland that third-generation farmer David Hussman is poised to put forward as the first “guinea pig” in the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange, aimed at preserving farmland as open, green space not to be subdivided or developed.

“From a national perspective, this is important,” Hussman said as birds flew over his property and sheep grazed in a verdant backdrop. “Farmland is important in the production of food. If we become a net importer, we’ll be vulnerable in the world, and if you thought the oil embargoes were scary …”

Hussman said farming the same land his great-grandfather tilled 140 years ago is important to him. His wife of 11 years, Kathi, said she remembered their first date, right there on the farm.

“We walked out into the field to irrigate, and I knew then that this was someplace special – that it needed to be preserved,” she said.

The Hussmans thanked Bryan for his help with the Lincoln-Douglas Exchange.

“This is such a rare opportunity,” Bryan said. “The history of this county is rural agriculture, and it is up to people like the Hussmans who live in this Valley to decide what to do. The reaction in Congress has been very favorable – we make the tools available, and the land owner can take it or leave it lay.”

Long-time Valley rancher Dallas Byington said his family is also interested in participating in the exchange.

“Twenty years ago, there was a big cry about saving the Valley, about doing something with ag land so it couldn’t be subdivided, but no one was coming forward with the money,” Byington said. “Us ‘dumb farmers,’ all we have is our dirt. We can never go to what this Valley was even 30 or 40 years ago, but we can still keep it the most beautiful Valley in the state of Nevada.”

Plethora of benefits. Tour organizer Dan Kaffer, representing the Western Nevada Resource Conservation Service, said there are many reasons to protect the open lands in the Valley, particularly the land adjacent to the Carson River.

“It leaves a safe place for the river to spread without loss of life, and a safe place for the river to deposit sediment,” he said. “It recharges the aquifer, renews the soil, it is a place where fish and wildlife can prosper, it filters the water, it is a place where children and adults can recreate and play, it creates a place where people can just look and contemplate life’s possibilities, it brings wealth to the county and is a conduit to transport water to other counties.”

As the tour moved to the 5,000-foot marker up Kingsbury Grade, the Valley vista provided a backdrop that spoke without words.

“This is what we’re talking about,” said Douglas County Commission Chairman and ranch manager Jacques Etchegoyhen, looking to the east. He also thanked Bryan and others for their efforts in the Lincoln-Douglas exchange.

“It’s been nothing short of phenomenal,” he said. “Without Ame Hellman and Senator Bryan, this concept would have died years ago.”

You can’t “un-pave” it. Jerry Whitemire, from the Carson Valley Conservation District, reiterated Hussman’s point about needing ag land for producing food for the country.

“Food is important, and as we destroy ag land, it is hard to replace. When you think about it, people in Third World countries will fight over one thing – food,” he said. “But, the real key word to what we’re doing here is quality – quality of life, quality of water and air and quality for our children. It needs to be local and Douglas County needs to step up.”

Rancher Arnold Settelmeyer, whose father and grandfather preceded him in farming and ranching in the Carson Valley, and whose children are involved in ranching in the Valley, spoke of this history and one of the most important issues that farmers face as they come to retire and pass farms on to their children.

“For 150 years, people have been farming this sagebrush land,” he said as he looked out over the Valley. “Do we have the guts to go a different route? One of the greatest driving forces to premature development is the estate tax. If you want to drive us out, keep the estate taxes going.”

Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe, spoke of the Tribe’s support of the open land plan.

“We’re behind this program 100 percent,” he said. “It’s hard for us to close our eyes and imagine what this Valley used to be like, but we want to teach our children that they’re stewards of this land. The sky shouts ‘now or never,’ – it fortifies our hope for the future. If we can’t stand up now, what will we give the children?”

In gratitude. Ame Hellman, representing the American Land Conservancy, said that one of the saddest days in her life was when she heard Senator Bryan was retiring.

“Having him as a partner in Washington – it’s going to be irreplaceable,” she said as she presented Bryan with a framed photograph of Job’s Peak as a token of thanks.

“In 17 months, I’ll be a private citizen again,” Bryan reflected as he looked down on the Valley. “I think of my three grandchildren and wonder, ‘What difference might I make for them?’ It reminds me that one time, my wife dragged me to a movie called the Dead Poets Society, which I ended up liking very much. There was a line that Robin Williams said in that movie – ‘Carpe diem’ – seize the day or seize the moment . I think it applies very well to what we’re trying to do here, arguably the most beautiful Valley in all of Nevada – to seize it before it’s gone.”