Carson City – The 1,200 acre Jack’s Valley Ranch has been a working agricultural property since before Nevada statehood. Noted Nevada casino owner John Ascuaga has owned the ranch for some 50 years, and beginning in 2015, The Conservation Fund, Nevada Land Trust, and U.S. Forest Service began discussion of a conservation easement for the ecologically important property adjacent to the Tahoe National Forest and rapidly encroaching residential development.
In 2017 The Conservation Fund purchased a conservation easement for the property from the Ascuaga family, and on November 20 of this year the US Forest Service took over management of the easement and will ensure the land, no matter who owns it, will be managed in an ecologically and economically sustainable way in perpetuity.
Mike Ford is Nevada and Southwest Director, Conservation Acquisition for The Conservation Fund and a long-time public lands administrator. Mr. Ford was intimately involved with the purchase of the conservation easement for the Jack’s Valley Ranch and spoke with Brian Bahouth by phone …
What is a conservation easement? From the US Forest Service:
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between the landowner and Forest Service that protects the conservation values of the property from development. The purchase of a conservation easement permits the ranch to stay on Douglas County’s tax rolls and allows the continuation of ranching, an economically and ecologically sustainable land use. Conservation easements are granted in perpetuity and apply to the land regardless of who may own it in the future.
Mike Ford worked for several years on the Jack’s Valley Ranch conservation easement and said the property is important for many reasons.
“The location of the property is particularly significant because it literally abuts National Forest Service land to the west, which is land that goes right over the top of the pass and into Lake Tahoe, and to the east is part of a special wildlife management area for the state of Nevada, so if you know anything about the migration of mule deer or mountain lion or black bear or any kind of species that move from the high country as the seasons change, and so it is what we would call a wildlife migration corridor,” said Ford. “Around the property, there has been a significant amount and subdivision through the years, so that corridor has shrunk significantly, and the preservation of this particular property, both maintaining it as a viable agricultural operation but as an important wildlife migration corridor is really one of its significant attributes.”
Ranchettes and planned communities surround the Jack’s Valley Ranch, and certainly the 1,200 acre parcel could be profitably developed into more high-end houses or a golf course or both. Building is booming in Douglas County, and potential for profit is high, so we asked Mike Ford how the conservation easement came about.
“It’s an incredibly good story, and I want to give all credit and praise to John Ascuaga and his family for working with us,” said Ford. “To give you a little context, I was contacted back in December of 2015, so literally 3 years ago by Katy Simon. Katie has been involved with the Nevada Land Trust for many years. She’s an old friend, and she said, ‘Mike, development is occurring around here at an astronomical rate. There’s a real opportunity to prospectively to work with John Ascuaga and his family to protect this property, and we need your help.’
“We had worked with the Land Trust and Katie many years before when we protected almost 2,000 acres in the Washoe Valley,” Ford continued. “Very similar, around Washoe Lake as you’re travelling from Reno to Carson City where subdivision had been occurring, and so Katie was aware of that, and was certainly aware of the partnership that we’d had.
“I started a conversation with John and his family, and through that conversation became great friends, and John indicated to me that preserving this ranch, its historical, its agricultural integrity was important to him. John again is in his 90s, and we wanted to get this done while he was still around. I tell him he’s going to live a lot longer than his 90s, but for the last 3 years we actually worked together. We actually acquired the easement from the family in 2017, and we just completed the transfer of the easement to the National Forest Service where it will be preserved and protected in perpetuity.”
Competition for land is keen between conservation groups and developers eyeing the same rare land for different reasons. Mike Ford explains.
“Let me give you a statistic I think is really important,” Ford said. “Eighty-seven percent of the state of Nevada, 87 percent, is already in public ownership. Either managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service or in some instances by the military such as lands that Fallon has or Nellis Air Force base down here in southern Nevada, so actually only 13 percent of our state is open for development. No other state in the union only has 13 percent private land. What makes that significant is that private land is generally up and down the Washoe Valley, the Sierra front and down here in Clark County, and yet those lands are every bit as important, many of them, as the other 87 percent from an environmental and conservation perspective, so using a conservation easement tool to protect those attributes while allowing them to stay in private ownership and having a significant contribution to local economy preserves long-standing traditions embedded in Nevada’s heritage but also recognizes the extraordinary environmental and conservation values that we have as a state, so the conservation easement tool is really the future for Nevada to achieve those dual purposes.”
For more from Mike Ford, listen to the audio interview embedded above …