News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Activists gathered locally, seeking to 'rewild' Oregon

There is a movement across the West — indeed, across many parts of the world — to restore ecosystems and bring back the keystone species that used to inhabit them. This movement is called “rewilding.”

A rewilding conference last Saturday at Lake Creek Lodge in Camp Sherman focused on initiatives across the state of Oregon

Panels were held on carnivores, native fish, desert ecosystems, forest ecosystems, and a 30x30 panel. (Now referred to as the America the Beautiful Initiative, 30x30 refers to conserving 30 percent of terrestrial and marine habit by 2030.) A group discussion closed out the presentations, and a dinner and social time concluded the full-day conference. Limited to 160 participants, the event sold out quickly. Lake Creek Lodge provided a beautiful venue, delicious food, and Camp Sherman-style hospitality.

The event was sponsored by Western Watershed Project, Wolf Welcome Committee, and Lake Creek Lodge. Cosponsors included Center for Biological Diversity, Rewilding Institute, Project Coyote, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Oregon Wild, Humane Society, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Native Fish Society, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Water Watch of Oregon, and Greater Hells Canyon Council.

With hot topics in Sisters Country like recent unverified wolf sightings in Lower Bridge, plans for logging by the Forest Service in the Green Ridge Landscape Restoration Project, and proposed land-use regulations to support mule deer winter grazing habitats, the conference hit many of the issues facing Oregonians.

Organizers were clear that all opinions and ideas were welcome. Their hope was to start a dialogue between groups involved in recreating, managing, and utilizing public and private lands in Oregon.

Sisters resident Linda Wolff found the conference informative and the presenters objective and able to provide statistics and data backing up their findings.

“During the presentation on cougars, it was fascinating to learn that coming in and just hunting them isn’t effective,” she said.

Kathy Marshall of Sisters echoed Wolff’s statement. Learning about carnivores and that killing cougars and wolves can increase predation on livestock was valuable information for Marshall.

“A lot of people don’t know that. Maybe if they knew they wouldn’t support killing cougars and wolves. It’s so simple,” she said.

Organizer Adam Bronstein was excited to see the community and others from across the state coming together around the topic of rewilding.

“They’re learning what re-wilding means and how it’s being applied and that there might be a greater movement coming together to protect our public lands and biodiversity in the natural world,” he said.

Lake Creek Lodge’s owner, Gordon Jones, was proud to be a main sponsor of the Rewilding Conference.

“I have an intense interest in the restoration of the landscape and have been doing it here at Lake Creek Lodge for the last twenty years. We’ve restored the creek with help from the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Forest Service…. Actually there were twelve agencies involved in that. I’ve been learning about re-wilding since my interest in wolves and beavers came together. Re-wilding aligns with our values here at Lake Creek Lodge,” said Jones.

Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) Executive Director Scott Penzarella came to the conference to support the event and represent members concerned about issues around wildlife and as a spectator.

“Our members and donors understand the relationship between recreation and wildlife. Recognizing that we have an impact, we’re attending to learn more from experts providing lots of great insights in our local area and beyond. Any issue related to our public lands, from grazing, reintroduction of wolves, and preservation of animals affects us all. In order for recreation to thrive, especially being recognized as an important economic engine, our area where we recreate must survive and thrive, too. We can’t be absent from that relationship,” said Penzarella.

Jim and Georgia Van Winkle are ranchers from Eastern Oregon who now live in Redmond. They came on behalf of the Farm Bureau. The ranch Georgia grew up on has been in their family for over 100 years.

“Georgia was a Hardie and now we have grandkids that are sixth generation on this place,” said Jim.

“The Hardie ranches began in the 1880s,” said Georgia.

“My husband used to work for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service,” she said.

With a science background and decades of knowledge in the cattle business, Jim knows the importance of finding common ground.

“The cattlemen and environmentalist have to work together. I’ve really enjoyed the speakers and listening to the presenter about cougars. It was very interesting,” said Jim.

Formerly a wildlife biologist, Van Winkle brought his experience and knowledge to the cattle business and has made huge strides in improving the sustainability of their ranch.

The benefits of collaboration aren’t new for Georgia.

“About 12 years ago, when I was on the board for the soil and water conservation district in Gilliam County, we put something like this on and invited Oregon Natural Desert Association and other environmental groups to come,” she said. “We wanted to work together with them, and it happened. It was the best thing in the world to have everybody get together. Even though we’re on two sides of the fence it opened up conversations and friendships. It was one of the best things we ever did.”


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