Douglas County ranches at risk
MINDEN – Douglas County will lose its ranching community in 20 years unless something is done to make the business more profitable, said Douglas County Commissioner Jim Baushke.
Developers are paying premium prices for land, but encouraging agribusiness could stem the tide and slow growth, he added.
“We have a local business council and chamber of commerce,” he said. “We need to make an effort, possibly through a collective ranchers’ association, to find ways of keeping the agricultural industry viable in the Carson Valley.
“We need someone pulling for the farmers,” he said in an interview.
Fellow Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen said owning that much property is a liability, and the descendants of many ranchers choose to abandon the business.
“Ranchers obviously love their land, but we must face the economic realities,” he said. “If we don’t find alternative solutions, like conservation easements, the incentive to subdivide is huge.”
Research is ongoing at the University of Nevada, Reno, related to wine grapes, and Baushke hopes the growth of that industry will become feasible.
“I hope we can control growth through economics and find ways for these ranch kids to make a living on the land they will inherit,” he said. “Thank God for the ranchers in this valley. They’ve made the scenery what it is today.”
Etchegoyhen, who once ranched in the Carson Valley, said growing wine grapes for profit could be a challenge.
“Most of the valley is too wet for good grape production. The water table (is) so close to the ground,” he said. “Given the glut of grapes in California, it’s very difficult to compete with them.”
Historically, beef and lamb were the mainstay for ranchers here, and the quality of that product is phenomenal, Etchegoyhen said.
“The cow eats well and doesn’t have to walk very far,” he said. “The grass is rich, and we get a fabulous weight gain. We have a very high-quality product.”
Beef raised here is shipped off to a packing plant and mixed with meat from New Mexico and Arizona, Etchegoyhen said.
“Our quality disappears into the larger scheme of things,” he said. “But if this product is directly marketed, I think consumers would pay more money for it.
“I would like to see beef directly marketed locally, to local consumers,” he said.
Baushke said 67 percent of the land in Douglas County is owned by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Douglas County is purchasing a few small parcels, but his goal is to preserve as much land as possible outside of the receiving areas designated in the 1996 master plan.
Etchegoyhen said the 67 percent figure could be misleading.
“Clark County is 95 percent federally owned,” he said. “They have about 2 million people and it’s booming.”
Commissioners can’t promote or deny growth as long as the development is legal, and by the time a project gets to the commission, developers have been working with county officials for a year or two, Baushke said.
“When developers try to shoehorn a bunch of homes into a small area, we can say something,” Baushke said. “But we can’t deny a project if it’s legal and meets the zoning requirements.”
He said the commissioners and the county can be sued if they disapprove a project just because they don’t want growth. But he is uncomfortable with projects the size of Virginia Ranch, with 1,020 homes on 226 acres south of Gardnerville.