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Posted on: September 9, 2020

Conservation Easements Benefit Agriculture, Farmers, County and Navy

Navy, county reps flank Ernie and Carmen Schank in front of easement property

Naval Air Station Fallon, Churchill County and local farmer Ernie Schank closed a deal earlier this summer whereby 490 acres of farmland on both sides of Highway 50 at Rio Vista are now permanently in agriculture thus benefitting Schank, the Navy and the county. 

Accompanying those 490 acres of agricultural land are nearly 400 acres of water rights, making this transaction the largest single conservation easement between the Navy and the county to date. Schank also happens to be the first farmer to participate in the conservation easement program back from its inception in the mid-2000s.

The occasion was marked by a photo opportunity on July 1 among the major entities that worked to make this purchase happen.

Churchill County’s conservation easement program helps protect the two largest industries in our area: agriculture and the U.S. Navy by paying farmers to keep their land (and the water rights for that land) in ag production in perpetuity. It is one of the most successful conservation easement programs, vis-à-vis the military, in the nation.

How it works

Here’s how the conservation easement program works:

  • Agriculture properties with a minimum of 20 acres that fall within the designated buffer zone around NAS Fallon are eligible to apply with the Churchill County Planning Department as a sending site.
  • The sending site committee reviews applications and makes recommendations to Board of County Commissioners for approval.
  • The Navy and the county request an appraisal of the proposed conservation easement.
  • County Manager’s Office meets with the property owner to review the appraisal.
  • Property owner chooses whether or not to enter into a purchase agreement with the county.
  • Upon execution of a purchase agreement, escrow is opened for the formal purchasing of the conservation easement.
  • Through the Department of Defense’s Readiness Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program funds are designated for the U.S. Navy’s portion of the conservation easement program/purchases, which is currently 90 percent. Churchill County funds the remaining 10 percent of easement purchase. 

Program benefits

The benefits to the program are plentiful for all entities involved:

Farmers

The conservation easement program is entirely voluntary. Farmers can access much-needed capital to use how they desire; popular uses include paying off loans, reinvesting in ag operations or their agricultural holdings, all while maintaining ownership of their property and continuing farming operations. Even with a conservation easement, landowners are still able to sell their property for agricultural purposes.

As Schank said: “This program provides cash for our lands without being tempted to sell our land to developers. We sell the development rights for cash to preserve our ag lands with water and protect land around NAS Fallon from growth.”

U.S. Navy/NAS Fallon

The conservation easement program allows the Navy to keep development away from its fence line and out of the flight path since ag land is compatible with military operations and is a complimentary economic component to the military. Capt. Evan Morrison, NAS Fallon’s commanding officer, said the conservation easement program helps further forge the partnership between the Navy and Churchill County by preventing encroachment.

Churchill County

Churchill County benefits by:

  • Preserving its agricultural heritage
  • Keeping water in the Lahontan Valley for both ag production and groundwater aquifer recharge
  • Protecting water from competing upstream interests and putting it to beneficial use for sustaining ag production. 
  • The money stays with local farmers helping preserve their way of life and development is directed away from NAS Fallon to areas designated by the county’s master plan as suitable for future residential and commercial growth.  

“This program is important to our future and for securing water for Fallon and Churchill County,” said County Commission Chair Pete Olsen.

Schank said with this easement now completed, all his farmland, with one small exception of a plot near the airport, is in agriculture forever.

Those further interested in the conservation easement program may contact the Churchill County Planning Department at (775)423-7627.

Photo: Capt. Evan Morrison, Commanding Officer, NAS Fallon; Pete Olsen, Churchill County Commission Chair; Carmen and Ernie Schank, Rusty Jardine, general manager, Truckee Carson Irrigation District and Jim Barbee, Churchill County Manager in front of the Schanks’ easement land.

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