Boosters still optimistic about land exchange

News of the Lincoln Douglas Exchange demise has been exaggerated, according to those who should know.

"It's not dead. It's just in a coma," said John Singlaub, manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Carson City office.

Douglas County Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen offered a more optimistic view.

"It's kind of stuck in the mud," he said.

The Lincoln-Douglas Exchange would allow the sale of federal land in Lincoln County to private developers.

The proceeds would be used to buy development rights from ranchers in Douglas County, keeping their land in agricultural production.

Lincoln and Douglas county leaders initially heralded the proposal as a win-win idea that would promote economic development in Lincoln County while preserving Douglas County's picturesque ranchland.

But Lincoln County leaders protested a BLM land use plan that addressed the 16,000 acres to be sold, catching everyone by surprise.

"We thought this was a no-brainer, but that's turned out not to be the case," said Singlaub.

He said Lincoln County's protest concerns a desert tortoise species that is listed as endangered and threats of a lawsuit have been made.

The protest involves land north of Mesquite,where most of the land proposed for the exchange is.

BLM administrators in Washington, D.C., will hear the appeal and could affirm or deny it. Singlaub said the protesters will have to cite a specific provision of the proposed plan or the appeal will be rejected.

In the meantime, Singlaub said the agency is considering including land in White Pine County instead of Lincoln.

Others involved aren't letting the delay stop their work.

"We don't know it's dead. We're still working hard on it," said Harriet Burgess, president of the American Land Conservancy, from her office in San Francisco. "This is going to go forward."

The American Land Conservancy is helping to coordinate the exchange.

Gardnerville rancher David Hussman, whose 360 acres could be among the first affected by the exchange, said he's optimistic an exchange will happen.

The Lincoln protest "doesn't quite put us back to square one but maybe square two," Hussman said. "I think whenever it's (the land exchange) done, it won't matter how long it took. The rewards are too good to give up."

He and his wife Kathi have been awaiting an appraisal of their land, which would provide an estimate for the value of their development rights. He said the appraisal is currently being reviewed and may be ready by June.

"We'd like to see the review get done so we can see th appraisal and then some of the other ranchers would get the idea this is serious," he said. "I think it might help us with the local initiative."

That initiative is to expand open space preservation efforts in Douglas County.

A coalition of ranchers, business and county leaders has taken informal surveys indicating residents would be willing to help pay to preserve undeveloped acreage, and the county commission on Thursday will consider the first steps in presenting a November ballot question to voters.

Etchegoyhen, who manages the Mack Ranch in Minden and counts open space preservation among his priorities, says he senses increasing support for keeping the Carson Valley's land undeveloped.

"I keep hearing people are really lining up to help," he said. "A lot of people are willing to send a $10 check but when people are willing to volunteer their time, that really says something."


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