Demaris Ranch. Photo: Marlin Kontje.

Conserving Central Oregon's Forests

Oct 26, 2016 by Sarah Mowry
Eastside dry forests are a type of habitat that is increasingly dwindling for wildlife and that the Land Trust has long been seeking to conserve.

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For more than 20 years, the Land Trust has focused on conserving land in Central Oregon for wildlife. Salmon and steelhead reintroduction has given us an opportunity for massive habitat conservation—think Whychus Creek—that benefits fish, but also many other species that depend on wet areas in our arid climate. Eastside dry forests are another type of habitat that is increasingly dwindling for wildlife and that the Land Trust has long been seeking to conserve.

Forestlands in Central Oregon and beyond have seen a massive transition in the last 20 years. Many of these lands were once owned by families and private entities who managed their forests for sustainable long-term production. As the timber industry changed, many of these owners have sold to more financially-oriented entities with very different management objectives. Owners have in turn maximized their return on their harvest and turned around to sell their lands off for residential development. The result: the slow disintegration of some of our most valuable habitat for wildlife and the loss of local sustainable timber production.

The Land Trust has long tracked this worrying trend and our first working forest project was completed in 2000. We worked with the owners of the Hopkins-Young Special Management Area to protect their 3,045 acre forested property south of Crescent. This dry eastside pine forest is home to mature ponderosa pine and a host of wildlife species that depend on its survival. White-headed woodpeckers need the mature pines for nesting and foraging and Northern goshawks prefer mature dense forests. In February of 2016, Hopkins-Young became a part of the 43,000-acre Gilchrist State Forest. The sale culminated a portion of a multi-partner, multi-stage Central Oregon forest conservation strategy the Land Trust has been a part of for 15+ years. The end goal: conserve Central Oregon’s forests so they can continue to provide sustainable timber harvests and wildlife habitat now and into the future.

Of course, another large part of the Central Oregon forest conservation strategy is Skyline Forest—the 33,000 acre former tree farm between Bend and Sisters. Skyline, like the Gilchrist State Forest, was once part of the 300,000 acres once owned by the Gilchrist family for many years. While the Land Trust has yet to permanently protect Skyline, out efforts forestalled a development push by an out of state corporation during the last real estate boom and led to its’ acquisition by a landowner more interested in managing the forest for its timber.

Though Skyline is far from protected, the current owner is actively managing the forest and has continued to maintain a voluntary wildlife winter range closure, as well as allowing non-motorized public recreation. In addition to continuing to talk with the landowner about long-term conservation, the Land Trust continues to put partnerships in place for the day the landowner is ready to formally commit to conservation.

Finally, another big forest conservation project is also on the horizon, but this time outside of Prineville. The Land Trust is working with the owners of Demaris Ranch to conserve their 2,000+ acre ranch on McKay Creek. Their property includes two miles of McKay Creek and its surrounding meadows, along with working pine and fir forest which are home native trout, flammulated owls, songbirds, deer, and elk. The family who owns the ranch has a long history in forest management and has drawn praise for their stewardship. They received the 1998 Central Oregon Small Woodland Association Tree Farm of the Year award, and the 1999 Private Land Stewardship Award from the Oregon Chapter of The Wildlife Society. The Land Trust and landowners are creating a land protection agreement for the property that will conserve these forest lands and the wildlife that live there, while continuing sustainable timber harvests.