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Don’t assume we own the open space

by Bernie Curtis

There’s work to be done before the open space issue goes to the voters.

There has been a lot of attention given to the placing of a possible ballot issue for the purchase of open space easements and development rights in the Carson Valley. Groups have been meeting to discuss this issue for many months. Open space is being touted as a vital indicator of the quality of life in Douglas County.

But, the desirable open space, for the most part, does not belong to us. Generally, the green agricultural fields are owned and tended by an ever-decreasing group who farm or ranch in these pastoral open spaces and make their living by doing so. People who moved here because of the verdant beauty of the Carson Valley claim ownership to these pastoral fields as a part of their right to “see out,” to have an unobstructed view to the Carson Range, to enjoy for their future and for their children’s future.

“We” make a monumental mistake in our misguided assumption. These open fields do not belong to us; they belong to the farmers and ranchers who own them. Yes, they do enhance and exemplify the quality of life in the Valley.

But unless something is done to preserve them they will be sold into small parcels for the miniranches or hobby farms similar to what proliferate in the Truckee Meadows and in some areas of the Carson Valley.

The ranchers of this Valley face other serious challenges not of their own making. First of all, farming and ranching has always been a struggle here. In times past, the winters have been vicious, causing extensive stock and crop loss. Temperatures of minus-30 are not unheard of here. The growing season is short, at about 105 days, less in some years. The growing season in some Alaskan communities is longer, with 24 hours of sunshine. Ranching and farming can be a tough life.

The people in agriculture are aging, and it doesn’t appear that many of the children who grew up on the ranches wish to return to continue the work after the parents are unable to continue to ranch. Many who do return to the ranch are faced with huge federal inheritance taxes to pay, which leaves few alternatives to selling all or a portion of the property, often for development. This is the most pressing assault upon the generations of family farmers and, in itself, does little to encourage the family farm to continue operation from generation to generation. Federal inheritance tax structures need to be changed to allow for continuation of the family farm.

So, if these open spaces that are so beautiful and vital to our quality of life are to be kept from development, there has to be a method to first preserve the water rights and then, if possible, to keep the family ranch in operation. How do we do this? And, is there a strong and pressing desire by the voters in Douglas County to create the financial mechanisms, to probably tax themselves in order to preserve open spaces in agricultural areas? Let’s find out!

Instead of irritating telephone polls that capture people at the least opportune times and at the dinner table after a hard day’s work, let’s place this on the ballot. It is not government’s responsibility to pay for a polling of its citizens to see if they might be interested in supporting a plan that they may eventually vote upon anyway.

We have the “wish” list brought forward from the community presentations, but what is the will of the majority of the people? More information needs to be developed before this can be logically presented to the electorate for their approval or disapproval. We have concepts, but what is the plan? How is it to be paid for? Who administers it? How do we, the voters, pick the method of administration?

I think that we should develop a cafeteria plan, including all known options available to accomplish the ultimate plan, for the community’s approval. Let’s use every method that can be used with the preponderance of effort given to fully recognize private property rights with total emphasis on it being voluntary. There should be no “takings.” Hasn’t Nevada had enough of that!

If done correctly, and with voter approval or denial, it will guarantee the ultimate quality of life that we collectively choose. We do not need to fear the ballot results or the will of the Douglas County electorate. And one more thing, when or if this is finally approved by the voters, let’s keep this as a local issue. Let’s not involve the federal government in any extensive way in this. The less the federal government is involved, the more successful it will be.

To the people who have put in the time to inform people about this issue, you should be recognized for your effort. It has been a good job so far, but the real work has just begun.

n Bernie Curtis represents Douglas County Commission District 3.