SALEM,Ore., (1/16/2015) – A new trend has started in Oregon. Conservation groups are buying up private lands and turning them over to the state to become public lands. Recently, Western Rivers Conservancy bought the Rattray Ranch in Gilliam County and announced its plans to sell a good portion of the land to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Keith Nantz, incoming chair of the Young Cattlemen’s Committee, is concerned about the high amount of private lands turnover. He said he fears the lands won’t be properly taken care of as “public agencies are already over extended and can’t take care of what they already have.” He believes that Western Rivers and others haven’t considered all the factors. “I don’t have any doubts the conservancy has good intentions, but I think there needs to be more of a team effort,” Nantz said.

Others have also voiced a concern that the general Oregon population might not understand the impact of private lands turnover. Frank O’Leary, Executive Director for Oregon Rangeland Trust, said, “Unfortunately many members of our urban communities cannot delineate between the benefit provided by private ownership and how it stimulates the economy versus the land that is held in public use that can be a strain to the public entity that maintains those properties.”

Nantz also voiced a concern for tax revenue, as public lands are not taxed while private lands are. Ken Brooks, an Oregon Cattlemen’s Association member from Grant County, has noticed this alarming trend in his own area. In counties like Gilliam and Grant, taxes are an important source of funding for schools and public safety services. “Losing 10,000 acres doesn’t change the state budget, but it raises the property tax land owners have to pay to meet that budget,” Brooks said.

If this trend continues, it could be detrimental to Oregon’s agricultural production. Ken Brooks said, “sooner or later if we continue with the mindset of purchasing private land and protecting it as public land, the reality of the situation is that eventually we will be relying on foreign countries for our beef.”

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association was founded in 1913 and works to promote environmentally and socially sound industry practices, improve and strengthen the economics of the industry, and protect its industry communities and private property rights.

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By Kayli Hanley