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Front page of Sunday Casper Stat Tribune, 14 years ago

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jodywy

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Casper Star Tribune – Sunday, October 15, 2006
By WHITNEY ROYSTER and JEFF GEARINO
Star-Tribune staff writers
AUBURN -- It's 1 in the afternoon on a rainy Thursday, and Jody Bagley is doing something he'd rather you not know.
Bagley, a regional vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, is herding lambs onto a truck.
He's a cattleman, but his work as a rancher has him dabbling in all kinds of activities, including helping a friend load lambs on this day. Bagley raises some sheep and was filling the truck with some of his stock as well.

Bagley is well known in Star Valley. He's on the Star Valley Land Trust and from the Bagley Ranch, which has been in the family for generations.
But all that may change for the 48-year-old father of three. Soaring land prices and increased costs in fuel, feed and drought have Bagley and other longtime western Wyoming ranchers looking to leave for different, if not greener, pastures.
"We're looking at trading one acre for 23 acres north of Lusk," he said. "One cow for three cows."
Bagley and many other ranchers are feeling the pinch. Big-money land offers stemming from residential development in picturesque pockets of Wyoming are prompting many longtime ranchers to consider selling to developers. Maintaining livestock herds in fierce winters and fending off multimillion-dollar offers for land becomes more difficult each passing year, even when livestock prices are high.
The Bagleys' 688-acre ranch borders the Caribou National Forest in extreme western Wyoming and is cut by the Salt River. The ranch is already being eyed for development, even though it's not yet on the market.

"We have Realtors calling, saying, 'Do you want to sell?"' Bagley said. "They say they have people interested."
Bagley has set a price "north of $5 million" and said he would like to see a "conservation buyer" purchase the property and keep it as open space. Bur realistically, someone will buy the north part of the ranch, on rolling hills, for development. The fate of the acreage near the river is unclear.
"I see development pushing most of the agriculture out of this valley," he said.
Across the country, residential development has been displacing traditional agriculture for many years. Glenn Pauley, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust, said the problem facing open spaces and ranchers is a "national problem."
"It largely varies in intensity according to development pressures," Pauley said. "The Rocky Mountain West is now the fast-growing region of the country."
According to the American Farmland Trust, Wyoming has nearly 2.7 million acres of ranchland at risk of development by 2020. Montana and Idaho have a little more than 5 million acres at risk each.
Gallatin, Beaverhead and Madison counties in Montana are the top three counties at risk, according to the farmland trust. Wyoming's Sublette, Park, Uinta, Fremont and Big Horn counties are all in the top 25. In Wyoming's Teton County, traditional ranching operations were largely squeezed out years ago.
But nowhere in the state has development and loss of open space been more acute in recent years than in scenic Star Valley, just south of Teton County in Lincoln County along the Idaho/Wyoming border.
Losing ground
Star Valley, a high-elevation valley first colonized by Mormon settlers more than a century ago, covers 500 square miles and 10 postal codes. Fathers have been passing ranches to sons here for decades, but these days hardly anybody has more than 80 acres of contiguous ranchland -- and many people are ranching only part time.
Historically, there were as many as 200 full-time dairy farm operators in Star Valley, but now there's only about a half-dozen left. The dairy farm decline was capped last year with the closing of Thayne's landmark Star Valley Cheese Factory after 50-plus years of operation.
Longtime Star Valley ranchers know it's tough to get a good return on a 60-day growing season. They can, however, realize a pretty good retirement if they sell to developers.
As a result, Star Valley's population has risen from approximately 8,000 residents a decade ago to just over 11,000 residents. Lincoln County figures show about 200 new homes are built every year in the valley, and over 1,500 new homes went in during the last decade alone.
Alpine, a small mountain community in northern Lincoln County, leads the state in population growth. The town has added one-third to its population since 2000, nearly 800 residents.
Add to that a booming population over the last decade, and the result is a Star Valley that has shifted from an agricultural economy to one based on home construction, minerals and the energy industries.
Lincoln County Planning Director John Woodward said development is largely being spurred by second-home construction and the huge increase in workers commuting to Jackson from small Star Valley communities including Alpine, Etna, Freedom and Thayne.
"In the last five years, we've been permitting 200 new homes a year," he said. "The prices are very strong. In fact, the empty lots this year increased by over 30 percent in price and probably about 300 percent in the last three years."
Saving open space
Woodward said county officials have been working to not use up the open vistas of the valley quite so fast.
A new county growth plan attempts to allow the sustainable development of land while encouraging higher-density developments and affordable housing developments within existing communities and towns.
Before 2005, the average subdivision lot in the valley was five acres. Woodward said the county began giving incentives last year to developers to get one-acre or half-acre lots in Star Valley communities with water systems. "We wanted to discourage development in those rural places," he said.
As a result, the average size of most new lots being permitted is 1.1 acre.
"We're reducing the rate of land consumption by 80 percent ... and increasing the number of lots out there," Woodward said.
Most of the new home growth is occurring in the recently incorporated town of Star Valley Ranch, a sprawling development of new homes and golf courses constructed on rolling hills where dairy cows once grazed.
Woodward said there are 2,000 lots in Star Valley Ranch and about 45 percent, or some 900 new homes, have already been constructed. The county estimates another 1,000 homes or more will be built in the community over the next few years as the town develops water infrastructure.
Woodward said the county is also trying to address the need for apartment and townhouse units, particularly around rapidly growing Alpine. Increasingly, Jackson residents who cannot afford the sky-high real estate prices are migrating to Alpine and the surrounding area in search of more affordable housing.
Alpine officials are working on water and sewer expansions and have begun the annexation process for several projects. Those include the Alpine Meadows subdivision -- with 156 single-family homes built on four-tenths-of-an-acre lots -- and a nearby condominium development that will have 198 townhouse-style homes.
Watching from heaven
Bagley said for him to make a go of ranching in Star Valley, he would have to buy more cattle and more land to expand his operation. But land prices make that option untenable at this point.
"We're not big enough to be economically viable," he said. "It will never pay for itself with agriculture."
The family has considered charging for access to the ranch, or converting to a bed-and-breakfast operation. "But I like the business. I like what I do," he said.
What some Wyoming ranchers have been doing to help preserve open spaces -- mainly through the work of state nonprofit organizations -- is to set aside land in conservation easements.
With such an easement -- basically, a purchase or donation of development rights -- a landowner can assure that a portion or all of his ranch remains as open space. Or a conservation buyer may purchase a large parcel and preserve some of the acreage for open space. Planning and zoning laws also play a role in preserving open space, where communities can identify where they would like to see development and concentrate it there.
Bagley said a conservation easement is not a good answer for his operation, which rarely earns enough income to offset the tax benefits of a donation. And Bagley looks a bit sideways at planning and zoning efforts.
"If you're young enough, and have enough money, you can wait it out," he said.
Bagley's father consolidated the ranch with his father, who was ready to sell the ranch 50 years ago, Bagley said.
"I can hear him up in heaven telling me to go for it," he said.
Bagley talked with his father before his death about selling the ranch; his father approved. But his mother still lives in the house where she raised her children, and she wants to stay. Any sale of the Bagley Ranch will include a provision to allow her to do so.
 

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