From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 17 - 12/21/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Is This the New Agriculture?

by Paul Rock

I see where developer extraordinaire Ron Saypol has decided not to put deed restrictions on his Packer Creek parcels to prevent owners from grazing livestock there, and then appealing to the county assessor for those substantially lower agricultural tax rates. This despite Mr. Saypol's agreement to do so at a prior meeting of Sublette County Planning & Zoning. A check with the county clerk's office reveals relevant deeds filed with no such restrictions, and phone calls to P&Z confirms Mr. Saypol's previous agreement to do so.

The worry is that this high-roller development, and others like it, will seek "ag" status for their properties and enjoy much lower tax rates for their absentee owners. Another Saypol development, the Ryegrass Ranch, did this very thing and can enjoy the sugar-plum vision of a total tax drop from about $36,320 to $2,350. Good deal for them. Bad deal for Sublette County tax coffers. A $34,000 shot in the head.

Also a puzzling deal, I think, for the definition of "ag." Agriculture is a noble pursuit, and its practitioners are a good and chosen people. Officially, for now anyway, agriculture in Wyoming means cultivation of the soil, the production of forage or crops, and the rearing, feeding, and management of livestock, poultry, bees, fish, or other animal species in domestic or captive environments. Easy to say. Harder out in the bush.

A tremendous amount of work and emotion goes into agriculture. The amount of knowledge needed to run a working cattle ranch is staggering but is given short shrift because it shows up smelling of manure, with banged up hands, and a smear of grease across its nose. The daily effort required is pitted against an often malevolent universe hell-bent on returning order to chaos.

The official definition goes on to say the land where this agriculture takes place must be used as such for the primary purpose of obtaining a monetary profit. Vague enough for you? Now let's everyone who has spent any time at all in Sublette County admit we know what a ranch is. One of the things a ranch is not is a 50-acre parcel of land with the word ranch tacked onto it no matter how high or mighty is the log arch over the drive-way. How many head can you run on 50 acres? One? That's not agriculture. Let me quickly add I have nothing against people buying 50- or 100-acre parcels and doing what they want. I wish I could, believe me. Call it Shangrila, just don't call it ag.

In many cases, what that is is a tax shelter. Someone with a few hundred thousand dollars can park that money cheaply on one of these parcels, pay hardly anything with his new ag-rate tax, and then sell the property or further subdivide it in a few years for a robust profit. An A-1 zoning still allows a house on the property, so the landowner never really suffers at all.

And, hey, that's swell, but it isn't agriculture. Even though the whole thing is done with paperwork, it is more akin to mineral extraction. Precious metals. Gold and silver. Mining money from the endlessly increasing market value of the land. Is that the future of Sublette County agriculture? I hope not.

I'll further add I am all for folks want-ing to give raising livestock a try on 500 acres and a dream. They have my unflagging affection. It's not the size of the spread that counts so much as the size of the human spirit.

Let's not forget, land does not benefit from continual rest. Livestock grazing stimulates the upland and riparian plant communities that would otherwise decline. Plus, anything that reduces the amount of grass pasture available in Sublette County will be a further strain on the cattleman's already highly stressed bottom line. The whole problem spirals off into ever more complexity.

I am generally against restrictions, so I can understand Mr. Saypol's reluctance to put such a one on his deeds. It deletes an attractive option of financial planning, a nice selling point, and even some ecological bragging rights. The hard part for him will be explaining to the Sublette County P&Z why he didn't do what he said he was going to do. Good luck with that one, Ron.

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