Valley chosen as site for study on open space protection | RecordCourier.com
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Valley chosen as site for study on open space protection

by Sharon Carter

The Carson Valley is the first of two fast-growing Western communities to be chosen to serve as a study model for two new land planning textbooks.

Selected by the non-profit Sonoran Institute, whose researchers are writing the workbooks, the Carson Valley and another as yet unselected area will be used to help refine and gauge the effectiveness of planning and management efforts designed to help preserve open space in rural areas.

Ame Hellman of the American Land Conservancy’s Minden office said different strategies must be developed for the needs of different areas to protect ranches and farms and preserve open space, wildlife and riparian environments from development pressures and still accommodate population and economic growth.

“The idea is to develop management plans that incorporate the needs of various sectors in the community,” Hellman said.

Hellman, who is also a Douglas County planning commissioner, said her involvement in the workshops is as an citizen and environmentalist and not as a representative of county government.

n Part of the process. “This is grass roots-based and community-oriented, not a government initiative. That’s why it’s important to receive input from all community members,” Hellman said. “It’s always better if these things are community-based.”

Federal land planners hope this “bottom-up” approach to public land planning will be more successful than the past, “top-down” process in which agencies crafted plans for the lands they managed, presented them to the public for comments and then often had to defend disputed or unpopular provisions of the plans in court or before Congress.

Developing a collaborative, community-based planning process is the goal. To be successful, the process requires that those involved have a more complete understanding and appreciation of the needs of all who have stakes in the outcomes. It also requires additional “tools” – new skills and training materials (like the workbooks) to help everyone prepare for new ways of doing business.

In Douglas County, a steering committee made up of representatives of business, building, agricultural and environmental interests has been put together. That committee is sponsoring its first community-oriented workshop May 8 at Douglas High School.

“We’re inviting anyone who has in interest – from ranchers and business people to average citizens who are concerned about quality-of-life issues,” Hellman said.

n BLM a partner. Mike McQueen, a planning and environmental coordinator in the Carson District Office of the Bureau of Land Management, is also on the committee.

McQueen said although the BLM awarded a $120,000-grant to the Sonoran Institute to determine what planning tools work in different community situations, the BLM will only be one member of the group.

“The BLM surrounds a lot of communities in the West where people are expressing concerns about the way open space and agriculture are disappearing and how quality of life is being degraded,” McQueen said. “We’re looking for ways to cooperate to protect communities and help them develop in ways that make sense instead of urban sprawl.”

McQueen, who grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, said all sectors of the community have to get on board.

“The BLM won’t drive or lead – no one agency or group holds all the cards, we’ll all have to work together,” he said.

McQueen said the idea is to develop specific ‘toolboxes’ to help protect the characteristics of communities its members want preserved.

“We’re beginning to see more housing developments, real growth,” McQueen said. “I’d hate to see this area going the way of the San Fernando Valley, a suburban area which was mostly farms and ranches 25 years ago. Look at what’s happening in Reno in the Truckee Meadows.”

n Here to help. Community facilitator Barb Cestero, of the Sonoran Institute’s Bozeman, Mont., office, is the Institute’s point person on the Douglas committee.

“I’m here to help. There is a lot of momentum gathering throughout the West in communities like Douglas County – areas that are seeing rapid growth threatening their ag heritage and wildlife habitats,” Cestero said. “You also have floodplain issues to deal with.

“The workshop will help residents find out what other areas have done, then they can come up with an action plan and develop a program of ag and open space protection. It really helps when you know you’re not alone and others have found things that have worked.”

Cestero said the Sonoran Institute has developed case studies of more than 20 successful community plans.

“The economic workbook we’re writing (using Douglas as a learning model), should be able to guide a community to produce (growth and interest) profiles and look at trends,” Cestero said. “With a successful collaboration in Douglas County, we’ll have a good start in figuring out what the lessons are.”

n Learning and sharing. The Sonoran Institute describes itself as more than simply a think tank operation that analyzes and reports on social or economic problems, it shares information and facilitates community workshops to help develop consensuses and shared visions for the future.

The non-profit organization, which has offices in Tucson, Ariz., as well as Bozeman, has developed the Successful Communities Program, riparian ecosystem recovery strategies, regional land trusts and guidelines and references for establishing other community stewardships.

For Hellman, the Douglas-Sonoran Institute collaboration effort “is a deal made in heaven” for everyone.

“We’re on the cusp of making decisions that will affect the community in the future,” Hellman said. “We’ve made the commitment to preserve the land. We need to get the message out and get started. It’s a good deal for the Sonoran Institute. With the Rural Lands Initiative, we’ve done a lot of the legwork and things are fairly orderly so they don’t have to come in and organize things.”