Loss for Utah
State should protect farmland
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If the owners of the grazing land used by Morgan Valley Lamb were to sell their 10,000 mountain acres in Morgan County to developers, Utah would lose not only one of its dwindling agricultural operations but some of the last scenic, pristine lands close to the bustling Wasatch Front.

The Utah Legislature has a mechanism in place in the LeRay McAllister Fund to save such places, but it has failed to put money into the fund in order to collect matching federal conservation money. That is a mistake that should be corrected.

The sheep-raising operation, which has been marketing top-grade lamb to local restaurants and grocery stores for more than a decade, is shutting down because the nine cousins who own the grazing land have decided to sell. The large parcel on the back of the Wasatch Mountains comprises hills, mountainous terrain, streams and scattered pastures.

It would be a shame if the land were paved over for commercial or residential uses. Although the future of this family-owned property is uncertain, that has happened to hundreds of thousands of acres along the Wasatch Front in the past 30 years, some of which were among the most fertile agricultural land in the country.

Jamie and Linda Gillmor, founders of Morgan Valley Lamb, and their family love this property and would consider offers that would keep the land as open space. It would benefit future generations of Utahns if the entire parcel could be protected and used for agriculture in perpetuity.

But that takes money, and Utah lawmakers have eliminated financing for a fund that preserves working farms and ranches — and is the state's only entity that qualifies for federal conservation money.

The LeRay McAllister Fund has preserved about 80,000 acres of mostly agricultural land as well as recreational and archaeological sites. Over the past 10 years, the state allocated $20 million that was matched by $110 million from the federal government and other sources.

The voluntary program pays property owners for development rights and establishes conservation easements on the lands. With the easements, farmers and ranchers are able to keep their properties in production, and when they are sold, the buyers cannot develop them for other uses.

Utah should follow the lead of other Western states that have had the foresight to save more of their remaining agricultural lands through this process. Because once farms and open space are gone, they are gone forever.