Photo: COLT.

New Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program will help conservation

Jul 26, 2017 by Sarah Mowry
The tail end of the 2017 Oregon Legislative session brought some good news for conservation!

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The tail end of the 2017 Oregon Legislative session brought some good news for conservation! The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program was created to help farmers and ranchers conserve working lands and the fish and wildlife habitat they support.

For more than two years, staff of the Deschutes Land Trust, as part of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, worked with the Governor’s Office and others to develop this new legislation. For the Land Trust, “working lands,” we mean productive ranches, farms and timberlands that, if undeveloped and managed well, can also provide important habitat for Oregon’s wildlife. Deschutes Land Trust and many other land trusts have struggled to conserve these lands due to a lack of funding at the state level.

The new Agricultural Heritage Program should eventually help land trusts purchase land protection agreements (conservation easements) on working farms and ranches. Our hope is that the program will help prevent the fragmentation of large ranches and farms, essential to efforts to maintain wildlife migration corridors. We’ve seen a tremendous need for such a program in Oregon and this is a critical first step in providing a permanent stateside agricultural funding source.

In passing the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, the legislature provided $190,000 over the next biennium, allowing the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) to work with land trusts and ag producers to develop rules for the program and establish the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Commission. Ultimately, the Commission and program will be overseen by OWEB and empowered to provide grants to land trusts to purchase working land conservation easements, as well as working with rancher and farm families to assist with succession planning.

Deschutes Land Trust expects the program will be a valuable tool for future conservation projects in Central Oregon. More specifically, we hope it will help fund high priority conservation projects on agricultural lands within the upper Crooked River basin.