Wow, has it really been 20 years? When I think about it, I have to admit that some days it feels like just yesterday, while at other times, it feels like a lifetime ago. The truth is that when we founded the Deschutes Basin Land Trust (yes, that's a mouthful of a name), back in the summer of 1995, we really didn't know what to expect. Would landowners and the community embrace the idea or would the whole thing fade away and be forgotten in a few years? Would we conserve and protect farm and ranch land or would we focus on wilder places such as canyons and forests? Would most of our projects be conservation easements or would we actually own and manage land? Would we be successful in raising money to hire staff and buy land?
We were a small group of public employees with a weakness for good craft beer and a passion for the community, so there was no shortage of questions and opportunities, or so we hoped. We loved this place in the high desert we called home and, of course, we were going to try and protect it! When I look back, it's probably a good thing that we didn't have too many preconceived notions or expectations, as it meant we could be flexible and opportunistic. When the opportunity arose to work with a private landowner in Sisters, we found ourselves not only the recipient of our first property Indian Ford Meadow Preserve, but also with the humbling opportunity to learn just how generous and community-minded a landowner can be, yet how complicated a small community often is.
From that first acquisition, we learned our ambitions grew with every project, so did our awareness of the perpetual obligations we'd assumed. Recognizing that the return of salmon and steelhead to Central Oregon would offer unique opportunities to protect and restore streams, meadows and forests, we quickly seized the initiative by partnering with Portland General Electric to acquire Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Over time, that strategy would come to be known as our Back to Home Waters program, with projects on key tributaries to the Metolius, Deschutes and Crooked rivers. With committed staff and a patient, supportive Board, we focused intently on lower Whychus Creek, systematically acquiring and restoring essential floodplain habitat. At the same time, we recognized our goals demanded the resources and expertise of multiple organizations--no single group or agency could do it alone, but by working together we could accomplish truly remarkable things. As a result, Whychus Creek has not only come back to life, but continues to flourish despite one of the worst droughts in memory.
Today, our work to conserve land for the return of salmon and steelhead has become a key part of the Deschutes Partnership, a widely respected regional model for watershed restoration. Our efforts to conserve Skyline Forest, though still far from being achieved, have helped stave off subdivision, while inspiring community forestry initiatives elsewhere in Oregon and the northwest. Our walking trails are helping new residents and old discover their backyard, while our guided hike program has built community awareness and become a model for other land trusts.
Looking back, did we achieve what we set out to achieve? Well, the answer is of course much more complicated than a simple, yes or no. What is clear is that the past 20 years of effort have made a real difference. Yet, we know we have much more to do. The next 20 years promises to bring even more conservation that will eventually make our region more livable. Thanks for standing with us for 20 years and I hope we can count on you in the years ahead!
~ Brad Chalfant