Valley family offers easements for preservation
A Carson Valley family has followed through on a plan to preserve its 734-acre ranch by giving up building rights on the land.
Bill and Judy Sturgis have donated a conservation easement for the land, located along Foothill Road between Muller and Mottsville lanes, to The Nature Conservancy, a private, non-profit group that works to preserve sensitive habitats.
The donation, announced last week, is the first to an official conservation organization in Carson Valley, said Ame Hellman, special projects director for The Nature Conservancy’s Nevada chapter.
Conservation easements limit future development of land but allow owners to continue holding and using the property. The easements, which in theory can be sold, have been suggested as a way to preserve Carson Valley’s ranches.
Though Douglas County voters rejected a sales tax hike that would have been used to buy conservation easements, Reno attorney Richard Schulze, who handled the Sturgis transaction, said private interest in conservation easements is increasing.
“It seems once somebody starts, the interest goes up,” said Schulze, who has helped develop agreements for conservation easements in eastern Nevada.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding because some see it as taking away land rights, but that’s where the art of it comes from,” he said. “You are giving up certain rights, but you are also retaining certain rights.”
Schulze declined to name a value for the Sturgis transaction, but noted benefits can come from income tax reductions and estate planning. He said standard values haven’t emerged for conservation easements because each transaction is unique.
Hellman and Judy Sturgis declined to comment on the value of the Sturgis easement, but Sturgis said the arrangement is ideal because the land owners can tailor the agreement to their needs. The Sturgis easement, for example, allows another house to be built on the land.
Sturgis also cited the impact on wildlife and keeping houses out of the flood plain.
“We’re not anti-growth, but we really feel there are places that you should build and places you shouldn’t build, and one of the places is on the flood plain,” she said. “It is the where the food chain begins in the Valley.”
The Sturgises have ranched in the Carson Valley for 50 years. In addition to placing the easement on their ranch, the family’s Timken-Sturgis Foundation helped The Nature Conservancy buy the 788-acre River Fork Ranch in July. The foundation contributed $1.2 million toward the purchase of the ranch, located north of Muller Lane.
Hellman said she hopes the Sturgis conservation easement agreement is the first of many.
“When you add the Sturgis ranch with the River Fork Ranch, that’s quite a few acres to be protected,” said Hellman. “The more that we can protect, the better.”