Rural lifestyle deserves more than lip service | ParkRecord.com

Rural lifestyle deserves more than lip service

One by one, Summit County’s remaining active ranchers are realizing the ground they have worked on for generations is worth more than the crops and cattle they have worked so hard to raise. And, during years like this, when irrigation water is low and property taxes are high, many are just one telephone call away from selling it all to an eager developer. In the meantime, Summit County residents, whose subdivisions border rolling pastures dotted with quaint old barns, blissfully tout the benefits of their rural lifestyles. Few realize how precarious their claim to wide-open spaces really is. The slowly accelerating transition from ranch to ranchette to cul-de-sac is a fact of life in the Snyderville Basin. But now homeowners on the east side of the county are waking up to see bulldozers carving up the pastures they assumed were permanent fixtures on the landscape. Fortunately, several organizations, notably Utah Open Lands and the Trust for Public Lands, have taken proactive steps to help preserve a way of life that few of us are hardy enough to sustain but upon which our quality of life depends. Those groups, armed with new state and local laws and a variety of sophisticated financial tools, are helping ranchers and their families keep their holdings intact. Those tools include conservation easements, community land trusts and legal counseling. Summit County and the state Legislature have begun to recognize how quickly local ranches are disappearing and how important they have been in mitigating the side effects of urbanization like traffic, air pollution and the loss of natural resources. Over the last few years, both entities have taken steps to ease some of the financial pressure on owners of agricultural lands. But unless local governments, with citizens’ support, take more aggressive action, their efforts may not provide enough to save Summit County’s last working ranches. Next time you ride past a herd of cattle munching alfalfa alongside a two-lane road in eastern Summit County, keep in mind that there is probably a rancher looking over the same scene and wondering how long he or she can afford to hold onto that land. And then consider volunteering or making a contribution to one of the ongoing efforts to protect those lands from future development. For more information log on to http://www.tpl.org or http://www.utahopenlands.org

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