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Sturgis family donates easements to conservation group

Christy Chalmers, Record-Courier staff writer

Foothill Road resident Judy Sturgis never thought it would happen.

“All of a sudden, we started seeing houses going up all over the area that we thought was in the flood plain,” she says. “This is why we really need to say something and step up to the plate here.”

Sturgis says she and her husband William will do that by donating conservation easements on their ranch to The Nature Conservancy of Nevada, a private group dedicated to environmental preservation.

By putting a conservation easement on their property, landowners can theoretically restrict development forever. Obtaining conservation easements, either through donations or by purchase, has been suggested as an option for preserving undeveloped land in Carson Valley while compensating property owners.

Sturgis said the Foothill Road ranch has been in the family for 50 years, and increasing growth in the Carson Valley was a factor in the decision to donate the easements.

“We’ve just got to save the green space, or we’re going to look like Reno,” she said. “This is what makes the valley so precious. It’s time to become more active in the preservation of the valley.”

If plans to donate the conservation easements proceed, Sturgis said the transaction could be done by the end of the year. The move could also mean a large corridor along Foothill Road would stay open thanks to the Sturgis family.

Sturgis wouldn’t publicly say how many acres her ranch covers, but Douglas County assessor’s office records list 734 acres along Foothill Road belonging to the William Sturgis Trust.

Coupled with the recent purchase of the 788-acre River Fork Ranch near Genoa, that’s more than 1,500 acres.

The Sturgis-Timken Foundation paid $1.2 million toward the purchase of the River Fork Ranch and plans to donate its equity in the ranch to The Nature Conservancy over 10 years.

The Nature Conservancy is to pay the rest of the $1.53 million purchase price, plus $1.5 million to build trails, restore habitat and pay the costs of operating the ranch. The group hopes to establish an interpretive center and provide public access while continuing to lease the ranch’s agricultural operations to a private operator.