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RANCHERS, ACTIVISTS JOIN FORCES TO BAIL OUT FAMILY

A unique plan to save an Elko County ranch shows ranchers and conservationists can work together on critical environmental issues, its sponsors say.

At a news conference at Sen. Harry Reid's office here Friday, details of the seven-year effort involving The Nature Conservancy, American Farmland Trust and McQueary family were outlined.Under terms of the financial bailout, the longtime ranching family will continue operating the 3,500-acre UX Ranch southeast of Elko while protecting migratory birds in a crucial wetlands area.

"This partnership dispels the myth that ranchers and conservationists can't work together," said Steve Hobbs, state director of The Nature Conservancy.

Reid, D-Nev., said the financial rescue of the ranch just north of Franklin Lake in Ruby Valley serves as an impressive model of what can be accomplished with cooperation.

"There is no better example than this of what can be done," Reid said, noting the plan came together just before the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, April 23.

The McQuearys were unable to attend the news conference due to adverse weather in northeast Nevada. But they have hailed the plan in the past, saying it supports both livestock and wildlife.

The McQuearys forged the partnership with the conservancy and American Farmland Trust after facing foreclosure in the late 1980s due to falling cattle prices and rising interest rates.

The family sold the ranch to the groups for $300,000, agreeing to a four-year option to buy it back at cost in return for a conservation easement.

The easement protects critical wildlife habitat by preventing the land from being subdivided.

Hobbs said the Franklin Lake area is home to a variety of migratory birds, including common species of waterfowl as well as sandhill cranes, white pelicans, trumpeter swans and whife-faced ibis.

"This is one of the more unique deals we've been involved in. It's certainly the first time we've done an interest-free loan," Hobbs said.

After several extensions, the McQuearys recently secured a loan to repurchase the ranch from the conservancy.

The family, which has operated the ranch since 1946, currently grazes about 300 head of cattle.