Patience Key to Using Nevada Act to Protect Land
Thanks to a unique piece of federal legislation, and despite pressure from a growing population, 300 acres in western Nevada will now be preserved by a conservation easement brought about by the American Land Conservancy.
The easement represents the first successful attempt at harnessing the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. Designed to promote conservation, the Act offers a new public funding avenue specifically for those interested in conserving both the ecology and the agricultural character of Nevada. Yet, this funding source may require more patience by landowners and more expertise by land trusts than a typical publicly funded easement—as its novelty and complexity significantly slows down the process for receiving funds.
The Carson Valley borders the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains and includes fertile soils, the latter of which has supported a vibrant agricultural community for over a century. This landscape, however, is now drawing settlers with different interests. A burgeoning local economy, led by recreational opportunities, has created substantial development pressure in the area. Even so, long-time Carson Valley ranch owners David and Kathi Hussman successfully protected a large portion of their ranch from ever being developed by selling their development rights to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) through the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act.
Passed by Congress in 1998, the Act generates revenue by selling public land with low ecological value around the Las Vegas metropolitan area to private developers. The resulting revenue then funds a variety of public initiatives in Nevada—including the conservation of ecologically and agriculturally valuable land. The American Land Conservancy approached the Hussmans about pursuing an easement on their ranch the same year the Act was passed, but it took some time for them to view the federal act as a viable option.
First, while the Act empowers the federal government to take action on behalf of local interests, it did not immediately provide the funding necessary for administrating action. As one BLM spokesperson stated, “There originally was no staff assigned to manage the Act.” Second, the local BLM office responsible for putting the deal together for the Hussmans had never purchased an easement before. It took some time for them to familiarize themselves with the rights and obligations inherent to such an agreement. Finally, the nomination process demanded by the Act takes considerably longer than most other public funding processes by requiring state and local government review, along with federal oversight, prior to acceptance.
Jim Elias, the Great Basin program director of the American Land Conservancy, said that the extraordinary vision and patience of the Hussmans was pivotal in arranging the easement and overcoming the obstacles. He also noted that, for land trusts interested in acquiring funding from this unique source, “It’s a long tough row to hoe, especially for easements.” He is hopeful, however, that future efforts will be more efficiently executed now that the Hussmans have cleared a path. The BLM is similarly hopeful about speeding up the nomination process, now that the required administrative structures are in place and the necessary institutional knowledge is growing.
By Bartholomew Martin
Photo by Kathi Hussman