Nature Conservancy considers Chaves Ranch purchase

DAYTON - The Nature Conservancy is considering the purchase of a ranch east of Dayton. Local agencies want assurance that attached water rights stay within the valley.

The group is currently in the middle of a 90-day evaluation process to see if the purchasing of the Chaves Ranch fits their mission statement. They will then have 60 days to decide whether to purchase the property.

Conservancy officials met last week with the Carson Water Subconservancy District to discuss their intentions and receive comments from the board.

Though the district has no official authority regarding the property, Subconservancy General Manager Ed James said the district would like to have some influence regarding the management of it.

"How do we preserve the beautiful flood plain? With proper planning, we can maintain the greenbelt, keep it as a working ranch and satisfy the water needs," James said following the meeting. "We need to plan to keep everything is place and still meet with the greatest benefit to everyone's needs."

The greatest concern expressed by board members was the possibility of the attached water rights leaving the Dayton Valley. James said the board would try to point out the advantages of keeping the water in Lyon County.

Subconservancy District board member Charles Lawson said the subconservancy took a very strong stand and said the water should remain with the property and in the basin, "However, Rob (Scanland, director of protection, Northern Nevada Office of the Nature Conservancy) refused to close the door to sending the water to Stillwater."

Lawsen acknowledged the owners would have the legal right to close the gates and "let it run downstream," but that users immediately downstream would probably use it.

The Stillwater Wildlife Refuge, east of Fallon, is the drainage basin of the Carson River. However, Lawson said Nature Conservancy officials strongly committed to look at ways to keep the cultivated land along the river corridor under agriculture.

"A committee comprised of county officials, subconservancy members and representatives from local conservation groups met with them last week and suggested the Nature Conservancy turn the cultivated area over to the Dayton Valley Conservation District for management. It was recommended we watch the conservancy and that they work with the committee and the whole board to keep the water in the valley."

It was also suggested the "home ranch" be used as a center for the various local, state and federal agencies to work together on how to manage the land to best benefit both agriculture and wildlife.

According to Lawson, there are approximately 450-acre feet of surface water rights, over 300-acre feet of supplemental water rights and more than 90-acre feet of groundwater rights attached to the property.

Addressing the Chaves Ranch issue at a recent County Commission meeting, Commissioner and Subconservancy District Board member Bob Milz noted the Nature Conservancy "Might have good intentions, but our intent is to keep them from stripping the water from the land."

Formed in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is the world's largest private international conservation group. Since its establishment in Nevada in 1983, its involvement with preservation efforts include the Stillwater Marsh, Red Rock Canyon and Ash Meadows. The Chaves Ranch would be its third effort along the Carson River.

In January, the Nature Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on the 734-care Sturgis Ranch, permanently limiting future development while allowing the property owners to retain ownership and use of the property; and in July it purchased the 788-acre River Fork Ranch south of Genoa. Conservancy officials are currently working toward plans to incorporate public access, cattle ranching and ecological restoration of the property.


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