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home : opinions : opinions June 18, 2018

4/17/2018 6:49:00 PM
The legacy of Wildhaven Preserve
By Leslyn Grape Caretaker of Wildhaven Preserve

Concerning the article on April 11 titled "Wildhaven Preserve may become public land," (The Nugget, page 1): As the caretaker of Wildhaven Preserve I would like to add some insight into this continuing saga.

In the article, Derek Johnson states that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) talked to Gil Staender in 2014 (he died in 2016) and that Staender was aware of the possibility that TNC would donate the land to the Forest Service.

This statement is just NOT TRUE!

TNC never specified the USFS as a possible steward. This was conjured up in their own minds knowing that they had previously worked with the USFS and other government agencies. At that time and from Gil's perspective all he knew was that Wildhaven had been a private, protected nature preserve for 44 years. With that in mind there was no reason for him to believe that it wouldn't continue to be managed and protected by a similar entity in the same manner that it had been for the many decades before.

If he had been told directly that the USFS was on the list of possible transfers he would not have supported that choice. This sentiment has been corroborated by all of the people who knew Gil and Vivian over the years as well as the remaining family members.

So even though TNC maintains that they received Gil's "blessing" for this transfer to the USFS, this is only a partial truth. The truth is that they did not give specifics and are hiding behind this mistruth as a means of justification for what they're doing. In my previous dialog with a TNC liaison and the TNC Oregon Director, they have always maintained that they did ask Gil if he was comfortable transferring Wildhaven to a comparable conservation entity. However, when pressed by me for specifics, they both confirmed that they did not mention the USFS as a possibility at that time. It is only since we have gone public, and the heat is on, that TNC is changing their story and claiming that they specifically named the USFS as a possible steward for Wildhaven.

The Staenders always believed that by donating Wildhaven to TNC that it would be kept protected from all forms of gross human encroachment. In fact, the commitment of TNC at that time was eloquently expressed in a letter that Tom McCall wrote for the dedication of Wildhaven to TNC in 1982: "I thankfully accept this living gift and pledge to you in the name of the Conservancy, that it will always be managed in a manner you would approve. No one can duplicate your hospitality and wise teachings, but our hope is that succeeding generations will at least realize that to The Nature Conservancy, managing Wildhaven is a labor of love."

As much as we appreciate TNC's many accomplishments in protecting sensitive lands and ecosystems and the fact that we have had a very good working relationship with them over these last 20 years, we are surprised and deeply troubled by their decision to dishonor the Staenders' wishes in this manner. They can try to justify it as much as they want but it is not ethical or moral unless they take the necessary steps to ensure that Wildhaven will continue to be protected in the way that the Staenders had intended.

The "conservation" styles of TNC and the USFS are not comparable. The land and house will be going from a privately protected nature preserve of 48 years to becoming unprotected public domain. This will directly go against the Staender's wishes as it will now be open to hunters, trappers, poachers and anyone who decides to walk upon the land. The fragile ecosystem, animals, ancient junipers and Nature House will all be threatened as the demise of Wildhaven becomes a real and present danger.

The legacy that Gil and Vivian created and trusted the TNC to protect in accordance with their wishes is in imminent danger of being lost forever. This is a betrayal of the donors and a travesty in the deepest sense.

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