“Do what’s right for the land.” It’s an ethos that the people who have lived at Cerro Gordo have taken to heart. Today, thanks to their foresight and dedication, glimmering Willamette Valley prairie, healthy oak and conifer forest, and a prominent rocky butte near Cottage Grove are all protected for conservation. However, it hasn’t been an easy or straightforward path.
In 1974 a visionary group of people led by the late Chris Canfield bought 1,165 acres of forests and meadows above Dorena Lake with the goal of creating a village in harmony with nature. While the original plan never fully materialized, a dedicated core remained committed to conserving this special place.
The Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy, led by board members Jim Stevenson (president), Don Nordin, Eric Alan, and Suzanne Huebner-Sannes, is now proud to celebrate a conservation easement in partnership with the McKenzie River Trust on 531 acres of this land adjacent to Dorena Lake.
A Different Tool
“We see land conservation and restoration as the primary goal,” says Eric Alan, resident and Conservancy board member. “This easement keeps with the initial vision of Cerro Gordo, and yet it’s a completely different tool than was envisioned in the beginning.”
Cerro Gordo boasts a stunning diversity of habitat types and plant communities throughout its landscape. The property has exceptional native grass diversity and several notable populations of rare and threatened plants, including shaggy horkelia, timwort, tall bugbane, Roemer’s fescue and yellow monkeyflower.
“Every acre is really different,” says Scott Ferguson of Trout Mountain Forestry, who has been working with the people of Cerro Gordo to manage the working forests since 1986. “The quality of the prairies is significant and the conifer habitat is really diverse, too.”
In 2012 a Healthy Forests Reserve Program conservation easement was secured on another 447 acres of Cerro Gordo forestland through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Together, these easements comprise nearly 1,000 acres of contiguous, protected habitat. “It’s a pretty substantial bit of conservation in a key part of the southern Willamette Valley,” Alan says.
Unique People and a Unique Place
“The property is amazing, but the human element is probably the most unique part of this project. Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy members are on-site stewards,” says Ferguson. “In my work I haven’t met anyone with a more profound connection to place than the people behind Cerro Gordo.”
The Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy looks forward to engaging the community on this special land in the future. They can be reached at P.O. Box 192, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.
This project was funded in part by a grant from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Bonneville Power Administration’s Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program. Key partners in this conservation success include Cerro Gordo Land Conservancy, the Cerro Gordo landowners, Trout Mountain Forestry and McKenzie River Trust.
Thanks to you, an oak woodland and working forest is protected
When you ask Doug and Linda Carnine why it was important to permanently protect their 294-acre property a few miles south of Eugene, it seems to always come back to the trees.
Inspired by a lifetime of travel, Doug and Linda have invested heavily in conservation in their own backyard.
They’ve purchased cut-over parcels of land around Lane County with a vision to turn them into thriving forests that clean the air and provide a home for native hawks, bees, cougars, rattlesnakes, and bears.
Now, one of those areas will be protected forever, thanks to a conservation easement the Carnines developed with the McKenzie River Trust. Funding for the project came from the Bonneville Power Administration and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program, and members of the McKenzie River Trust. The Carnines also donated a portion of the value of the easement to make sure the land would be protected.
Doug and Linda will continue to own the land and manage it for its wildlife habitat, native plants, and for the public, who can access the property on walking trails. They will also continue to involve the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.
Getting the land to the condition it’s in today has taken years of hard work.
“Each of these trees is one we have intimate relations with,” says Linda. We’re standing in a place, she explains, that was once home to a ten foot wall of scotch broom. Sometimes, when Doug and Linda came to visit, they’d find young trees they had planted in an area gnarled, twisted, and bent. “They about died several times.”
Linda points to one redwood sapling, about ten feet tall atop the hill of the Andrew Reasoner Wildlife Preserve and smiles.
“That one is amazing, the way it has popped up! It got real skinny, bent over, and we used stakes and all sorts of things to keep it growing, and now… look at that! Standing up and growing tall.”
“We probably replanted this spot about five times,” adds Doug.
Dedicated to Andy
The preserve’s namesake may be familiar to longtime members of the McKenzie River Trust.
Andrew Reasoner’s enthusiasm for life extended to his community, family, and work as MRT’s first ever Conservation Director from 2005 to 2007. A warm, energetic and caring person, Andy was able to connect with anyone, from the youngest child to the most skeptical landowner.
Andy’s friend Darin Stringer has worked with the Carnine family for over a decade to support restoration of their land. Andy lived next door to the property and often hiked there. “He was such an avid outdoorsman,” said Darin. As a neighbor “he was really interested in seeing the property conserved.”
Andy passed away in 2007 after battling cancer. When Darin suggested that the Carines dedicate the preserve to Andy, it seemed a fitting tribute. That is even more true now, as the conservation easement will forever protect a place that Andy loved.
“People are looking for a way to give back,” says Doug, explaining why more and more lands south of Eugene have been protected in recent years.
“For some reason land conservation resonates with them. Maybe they have heard the data on endangered habitat in oak savannahs and how important oaks are for so many species.”
That’s what Steve Smith, a retired US Fish and Wildlife Service refuge manager in the Willamette Valley, told Doug and Linda when he visited their property some years back.
Steve explained that oak savannah is the tenth most endangered habitat in the world. “We’ve lost a huge percentage of what was here when the Native Americans used fire to protect the oak,” says Linda.
It’s protected… so what’s next?
It seems conservation work is never done. Next up, Doug and Linda will work with the Long Tom Watershed Council to make the habitat even more attractive for sensitive species.
Pointing to a young forest of fir and oak to the north, Doug explains the conservation enhancement project. “We’re going to create a corridor from here all the way down to the prairie. We’ll take out some trees, release a lot of native plants and remove invasives.”
There’s a little rock out-cropping, which means diversity and the occasional rattlesnake sighting. There’s an old hunting blind where people have seen a bear cub running past. There’s chinquapin, Willamette Valley pine, and a woody grove that Linda calls her “madrone garden” that flourished in the hot, dry summer of 2015. And there are the oaks.
A special forest management zone in the easement will ensure that oaks will be protected in the midst of an area that the Carnines and any future landowners can thin for timber. The easement will require the area to be managed for the sake of the oak trees, rather than for maximal harvest.
You can come see the Andrew Reasoner Wildlife Preserve for yourself. In fact, the Carnines encourage it. “We ask people to give us a call,” says Linda. “It’s nice to know who’s out here.”
They ask that you access the property only on foot, and that dogs stay on leash. “Someone spotted a family of bobcats up here, so we’re really trying to protect them,” she adds.
When you visit…
Please do not block the gate.
Please call before your visit.
Please access on foot only.
Please keep all dogs on leash.
Before your visit, please call Doug and Linda to let them know you are coming: 541-485-3781
Address: 84731 Lorane Highway, Eugene OR 97405 – note that the address is approximate. There is no mailbox but look for the Andrew Reasoner Wildlife Preserve sign (pictured above) and the small pull-out by the locked gate. Do not block the gate.
The newest protected area in the Umpqua River Watershed
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.
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.