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Credit: Larry Johnson, "Denver Skyline at Sunset," December 17, 2009

New West Daily Roundup for Oct. 14, 2016

Today in New West news: venture capital across the west, Montana Gov. highlights economic plans for state, and BLM paying through the nose for desert tortoise habitat.

According to the Denver Business Journal, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association have released their third quarter MoneyTree Report, charting venture capital investments across the United States.

Overall, the MoneyTree Report sees a decline in both the number of deals and the amount invested. In Q3 2016, 891 deals were struck nationwide, with $10,625,879,300 invested. In Q3 2015, 1,189 deals were struck nationwide, with $16,713,968,800 invested. However, New West states had good showings in the report, especially Colorado and Utah. Below is a comparison of Q3 2015 and Q3 2016, courtesy of MoneyTree:

QC 2015:

• Colorado: 9th in deals, 17th in amount.
• Utah: 14th in deals, 14th in amount.
• Montana: tied for 38th in deals, 41st in amount.
• Idaho: tied for 42nd in deals and amount.

QC 2016:

• Colorado: 6th in deals, 9th in amount.
• Utah: 12th in deals, 10th in amount.
• Montana: 32nd in deals, 30th in amount.
• Idaho: tied for 43rd in deals, tied for 42nd in amount.

Wyoming was not represented in the report. You can see the full list of quarterly findings from Q1 2013 and Q3 2016 in downloadable Excel sheets on the MoneyTree site.

Keeping with Montana’s economy, Governor Steve Bullock made his economic case for the Treasure State Thursday, October 13 at the Montana Economic Developers Association’s 2016 fall conference, highlighting his plan to “build Montana’s economy, strengthen communities and create more good-paying jobs.” Bullock also took the time to thank the attendees for their efforts across the state. From a Montana Governor’s Office press release:

“As our economy continues to grow and diversify, we need to roll up our sleeves and continue to find new ways to boost economic development in communities across the state,” Governor Bullock said. He also highlighted the many policy proposals he has introduced in the last few months.

“As your governor, I am committed to tackling the most important issues facing our state,” he noted. “We must have an eye towards the future and seek out ways to build on our strengths to continue to grow our economy and create good-paying jobs for now and future generations of Montanans.”

Among Bullock’s proposals: carving out the state’s energy future, solving infrastructure funding and investment woes, veteran employment, reforming healthcare, and getting businesses to relocate to Montana.

Finally, over in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Bureau of Land Management is finalizing a deal to acquire two parcels of Washington County land for a desert tortoise conservation zone—and they’re paying dearly for it:

James Doyle had long hoped to build a resort on land he owns outside St. George, but the rug was pulled out in 1989 when the Mojave desert tortoise was listed as a protected species, and his land was later incorporated into the 61,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. Last week he sold a 9-acre sliver of his remaining 274 acres for $690,000, according to BLM spokesman Christian Venhuizen.

In a separate transaction, Brennan Holdings LLC will trade an 84-acre piece of its 788 acres just north of St. George for a larger parcel of BLM land in Long Valley east of the city, according to a decision signed last week by the BLM’s St. George field office manager Brian Tritle. This announcement triggers a 45-day protest period, after which the exchange will be consummated. It is also subject to a review by the Utah governor.

These deals hardly put to rest long-running controversies over private inholdings in the area, but they do advance a prolonged effort to compensate owners whose real estate was tucked among swaths of public lands set aside for desert tortoise and open space valued for nonmotorized recreation.

“It’s baby steps. Any of these inholdings that can be gotten out of there is progress. BLM is doing the county a big favor by handling these exchanges,” said Susan Crook, program director for Southwest Utah National Conservation Lands Friends, which advocates for the preservation of Washington County’s scenic public lands.

For its part, the county is paying for the cultural surveys on the 605-acre Long Valley piece, which are legally required before the BLM can trade it.

Over the years, the BLM has acquired 6,500 acres inside the tortoise reserve, which is bound by the Pine Valley Mountains to the north and surrounded by the cities of Ivins, Santa Clara, St. George, Leeds and Washington in Utah’s fast-growing southwest corner. It is believed to harbor about 15 tortoises per square kilometer. In 2009, much of the reserve was incorporated into the congressionally designated Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

Acquiring inholdings gets more costly with every passing year as development pressure mounts in Washington County.

[…]

So far, BLM has acquired 6,500 acres inside the reserve, but several hundred private acres remain, held by 10 landowners large and small. Those with the largest inholdings are Brennan, Doyle and Allan Carter, who collectively own 1,200 contiguous acres in the reserve, according to Wehking. Because these parcels abut St. George subdivisions, this land would be extremely valuable if it could be developed.

Thanks to a 1996 law Congress passed at the behest of Utah’s then-Rep. Jim Hansen, such land must be valued without regard to its inclusion in critical tortoise habitat in any federal buyout. In other words, BLM must fork over full value at current prices, even though these parcels can never be paved.

“That was a gimme to the developers,” Crook said. “We are happy to see any exchanges. We know there is a huge cost, but that is not BLM’s fault. That’s on our elected leaders.”

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