Conference focuses on re-wilding Oregon

 

Last updated 5/5/2023 at 5:01pm

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People interested in returning Oregon habitat to a more wild state will rendezvous in Camp Sherman next month.

The Re-Wilding Oregon Conference, set for May 13 at Lake Creek Lodge, is a public conference focused on conservation initiatives across Oregon. Sponsors include the Western Watersheds Project, Wolf Welcome Committee, and Lake Creek Lodge.

Two of the organizers, Adam Bronstein and Susan Prince, hope the sold-out event will bond groups together and begin inclusive and invigorating conversations on the topic of re-wilding. Event panel presentations include Forest and Desert Ecosystems, 30x30 (which refers to conserving 30 percent of terrestrial and marine habit by 2030), and Native Fish and Carnivores.

With re-wilding still in its infancy in Oregon, it's helpful to look at case studies from other ecosystems that began the process over a decade ago. In Europe re-wilding has proven to be successful and embraced by many. European re-wilding is defined by Rewilding Europe as "a progressive approach to conservation. It's about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems, and restore degraded landscapes. Through re-wilding, wildlife's natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats."

Over the last 10 years, the re-wilding movement in Europe has blossomed and spawned new initiatives across the continent.

Putting proven concepts into action in Oregon includes supporting keystone species like beavers, wolves, and coyotes.

Adam Bronstein, the Oregon/Nevada director for the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) says the idea of re-wilding is much larger than the conference.

"Re-wilding is a concept that looks at what native wildlife need to be healthy in habitats altered by human impact. It's about giving them a hand and thinking about wildlife first when talking about development and how we use our public and private lands. How the lands are used can adversely affect their ability to move around safely, procreate, and be healthy and thrive," he said.

Locally, the recent mailing from Deschutes County Community Development Department regarding Deschutes County's mule deer inventory update project and notice of proposed land-use regulations is a piece to the complicated puzzle of supporting native species that are under threat.

Adoption of the proposed ordinance may affect permissible uses of properties over 20 acres in size that are within the proposed zone, which includes a large swath of Sisters Country. For a complete map of the area visit https://www.deschutes.org/cd/page/247-23-000144-ta-2023-mule-deer-winter-range-combining-

zone-amendments.

"We welcome varying ideas about what re-wilding means," said Bronstein. "It can be personal in how it's applied. The conference is looking at Oregon as a whole and how we want public lands and some private lands to be managed. Re-wilding was put into practice in Europe where their native species have been severely impacted. For the U.S. it goes back to colonialism and the impact on native species like buffalo, beavers, wolves, and elk. We're looking at different mindsets on how we fit into the ecosystem and how important wildlife is. It's about asking what we can do and how we can go in the other direction to let wildlife systems work on their own."

Susan Prince represents the Wolf Welcoming Committee and works with Bronstein on re-wilding.

"We inherited an ecologically impoverished ecosystem that began when the Hudson Bay Company came in and almost trapped out all the beaver in the whole country. That loss altered the ecosystem in terms of wetlands and streams," said Prince.

Bronstein explained that after ecosystems are disrupted, either from the top down by eliminating predators, or the bottom up, like the decimation of the beavers, the landscape is unrecognizable.

"Extractions of forests and overgrazing grasslands are responsible for the change in Central Oregon from grasslands to juniper forests, sagebrush proliferation, and cheatgrass, which is now one of the most significant stressors to rangeland ecosystems in the western U.S.," said Bronstein.

The recent report of wolves sighted in Lower Bridge, and other sightings in the area, relate to re-wilding and how wolves are perceived by people. The accuracy of the reports by locals is still being discussed.

"Biologists from ODFW still haven't confirmed those sightings or any others. It doesn't mean the sightings aren't true, but we haven't gotten confirmations yet," said Bronstein, whose organization, the WWP, is a nonprofit environmental conservation group working to influence and improve public lands management throughout the western United States in order to protect native species and conserve and restore the habitats they depend on.

Re-wilding objectives in Oregon cover many ecosystems. That fact is reflected in some of the co-sponsors of the re-wilding conference, including Oregon Natural Desert Association, Native Fish Society, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Water Watch Oregon, and the Greater Hells Canyon Council.

The focus for re-wilding is often on keystone species in an ecosystem.

"In our case that's the wolf and the beaver. They are the ones that shaped our ecosystems to be healthy. Wolves used to move their prey around, which minimized overgrazing and benefited the soil and plant life," said Prince.

Bronstein said that domestic animals like cattle aren't able to mimic that scenario because of the way they graze and move across the land and the limited amount of land they inhabit.

"They are not a proxy for native species," said Bronstein.

Bronstein believes regulations are needed to protect wild places.

"You need government regulation, otherwise everyone is acting in their own self-interest," he said. "Their desire to go farther and faster can disturb deeper into wildlands that are refuges used to retain habitats. We need to keep some wild country intact."

For Bronstein, seeing the importance and necessity for re-wilding in Central Oregon can't come soon enough.

"The Forest Service is looking at logging on Green Ridge, which will be horrible for the spotted owl and the wolves, elk, and deer, and mature and old-growth trees," said Bronstein. "They're looking at taking about a million board feet of timber. They're out of control and reckless and very irresponsible. If we're going to re-wild, we have to protect what we already have. To do that we should be protecting Green Ridge. I'm furious about this project. The final decision will come sometime this year. A lot of people are outraged by this project." See related story https://www.nuggetnews.com/story/2023/04/26/news/green-ridge-project-under-scrutiny/35091.html.

To learn more visit the Eventbrite page for the conference at bit.ly/RewildingOregon.

 

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