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A generous gift protects an oak woodland

The newest protected area in the Umpqua River Watershed

Photo by Ryan Ruggiero

Landowners Joyce Machado and Dale Carey donated a conservation easement protecting oak woodlands and a portion of Pollock Creek to the McKenzie River Trust. Photo by Bruce Newhouse.
Dale Carey had no idea oak trees would be such a big part of his life.

Dale and his wife Joyce Machado retired to 62 acres of oak woodlands on Pollock Creek in Douglas County nine years ago. “The minute we got off the road, I said I like this place already,” recalls Dale. “It’s beautiful land, that’s about all I can say.”

A self-described nature person, Dale spends most of his time on his land. He tries to walk it every day. He knows practically every tree and rock, having worked extensively to restore habitat on the property.

In late November, Dale and Joyce took another step to protect their land by donating a conservation easement to the McKenzie River Trust. The easement permanently protects the impressive oak habitat, upland prairie, marsh, and forested wetlands from future development or commercial use.

“It’s about the oak trees.”

Jim Lee, a Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District employee, inspired Dale and Joyce to make some big changes on the property – changes that eventually led them to the ‘forever’ protection of a conservation easement.

Joyce met Jim at an open house at Kanipe County Park, just down the road from the couple’s property. When she began telling him about the oaks on their land, Jim’s eyes lit up. Jim visited Dale and Joyce’s land many times in the coming years. He described what oak habitat offers for native critters and suggested they remove the fir trees that were beginning to crowd out the oaks.

While hesitant to cut any trees at first, Dale and Joyce used Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds, matched by their own savings, to thin out their stands. They sent the downed firs to a lumber mill. Dale was determined that all the proceeds – over $20,000 – should go back into the land. Then Cindy Bright, also from the Soil and Water Conservation District, helped Dale and Joyce improve the habitat in Pollock Creek for coho salmon.

“Jim convinced me,” said Dale. “Oak trees have character, plus they support all kinds of life. I never knew that before I met Jim Lee.”

Jim died in 2011 at age 49 after an intense battle with cancer. Speaking with Dale today, you can hear how Jim’s legacy of supporting private landowners in their restoration work will live on in the oak trees of Douglas County.

Protected forever

At some point in those many years of restoration work together, Jim suggested that Dale and Joyce consider a conservation easement to permanently protect their property for fish and wildlife. The McKenzie River Trust came up. As Dale recalls, the organization was “just another abbreviation,” part of the alphabet soup of the conservation world.

Then Land Protection Manager Ryan Ruggiero came for a visit, and the possibility of long-term protection became more real.

When asked how he feels about his property being protected, Dale gets philosophical. “Forever. What a concept. I hope that’s the way it is.”

“Life is just slower up here,” says Dale. “We see lots of deer . . . There’s elk and bear from time to time, and beaver and [coho] salmon down at the creek.” Dale loves to catch sight of a western bluebird or pileated woodpecker, and hummingbirds and vultures migrate through.

Now, thanks to Dale and Joyce, and years of encouragement and effort by Jim Lee, all those creatures and their homes will be protected. Forever.