All Utahns, as well as people who visit the state, are winners with the official announcement that the 5,200-acre Dugout Ranch in San Juan County has been acquired by the Nature Conservancy.

Thanks to the cooperation of the owners - the Redd family - the hard work of the Conservancy staff and more than a thousand donors, the Dugout Ranch will be protected as a working ranch as opposed to being sold to developers.That's critical since the location of the ranch, northwest of Monticello at the entrance to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, makes it a vital part of the surroundings. The ranch provides the base property for 250,000 acres of BLM and Forest Service grazing allotments along the western slope of the Abajo Mountains, in Beef Basin, on the Dark Canyon Plateau and along Indian Creek and its tributaries. Splitting Dugout Ranch into various development projects would have drastically altered the character of that part of Utah.

Wednesday's action demonstrates an alternative way to preserve open space. The Redds wanted to keep their property from being developed but also needed compensation to satisfy their financial needs and the needs of their children. The Conservancy agreed to raise $4.6 million (the appraisal price was $6.275 million. The Redds made what amounted to a $1.7 million charitable contribution to keep the land protected. The Conservancy is still seeking about$500,000 in donations to complete the campaign).

What the Redds and the conservancy did was preserve an outstanding ecological asset. The ranch supports black bear, cougar, turkey, deer, rare plant species, significant "relict" or undisturbed natural areas and 42 miles of cottonwood/willow riparian forest. The agreement allows the ranch to continue to be a viable part of the area's economy as it has been for decades.

The Nature Conservancy, based in Arlington, Va., carefully identifies relatively small properties throughout the United States that are worthy of preservation because they represent biodiversity and encompass historic or archaeologically valuable sites.

As noted by Conservancy president John Sawhill, this transaction serves as a model of community based conservation. It's a model that is not restricted to environmental organizations. Numerous state and local government entities can apply the same principles to preserve open space. They should.