What is your definition of wildlands and how do you think management of public lands leads to that definition? That is a component of the Re-Wilding Oregon Conference to be held at the Lake Creek Lodge in Camp Sherman on May 13. The all-day conference will feature panel discussions on desert and forest ecosystems, carnivores, native fish and the America the Beautiful Initiative, formerly known as the 30 by 30 Project. The Western Watersheds Project, Wolf Welcome Committee and Lake Creek Lodge are the main sponsors, along with numerous co-sponsors. The conference is open to the public.
What prompted the local presenters the Wolf Welcome Committee, Western Watersheds Project, and Sisters Trail Alliance to host such a gathering?
"We were talking about a proposed logging project up on Green Ridge, and Adam [Bronstein] and I were thinking, what if we had a whole coalition of people that were invested in imagining this forest re-wild, instead of each group doing their own little thing, envisioning a larger way to interact with the Forest Service," said Susan Price, Wolf Welcome Committee co-founder.
Sparks from local projects such as the Green Ridge Landscape Restoration project which includes various treatments such as thinning, logging and prescribed fire on the forests there, to larger, statewide issues such as mule deer population reductions, wolf recovery and watershed protections, have ignited concerns with not only the Sisters Ranger District but with the agency across the West.
The question of how effective thinning and forest restoration practices are in relation to just leaving things wild is under debate by many conservation organizations, along with whether these actions create the least amount of impact on an area.
"We are just posing the question, are these sorts of projects appropriate," said Adam Bronstein, Western Watersheds Project's director of Oregon and Nevada. "What are we doing and what do we want for the future of our forests?"
Though the Green Ridge project or other local issues may have been the spark, the Re-wilding Oregon Conference goes way beyond Central Oregon.
"We have people coming to present on the Klamath Dam removal and Molalla River restoration project," said Bronstein. "We'll have carnivore panels and we'll be talking about the 30 by 30 campaign, which is now called America the Beautiful Initiative, to protect 30% of the nation's lands and waters by 2030."
According to the Rewilding Institute's website, "Rewilding is comprehensive, often large-scale, conservation effort focused on restoring sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem health by protecting core wild/wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and highly interactive species (keystone species)."
On certain projects, this may include the reintroduction of a few key species such as wolves or beavers on ecosystems that are close to their natural state. This approach is both intriguing and complex, considering the diversity of uses on public lands.
With roughly 4% of Oregon as designated wilderness, there are still some opportunities with remnant roadless areas to be protected.
"We have to go beyond this now and turn to rewilding," said Bronstein. "A light touch here and there, then let Mother Nature take her course."
The Sisters Trail Alliance is one of the co-sponsors.
"We're really asking the questions at STA about what is our role as recreational users in biodiversity and preserving our natural and wild areas," said Scott Penzarella, Sisters Trail Alliance executive director.
"We are starting to see things a little differently about staying within a certain footprint, as opposed to constantly expanding, and creating access opportunities within that footprint," said Penzarella. "That to me is a critical component and is something we can expand upon and support in some of these re-wilding efforts."
The sponsors hope that this conference will not only inform people about wildlife and habitat issues, but also help to elevate the dialogue between different groups. "Once we start to make those connections and that societal shift, then the projects and work that our government can be doing in support of that will have support," said Bronstein. "That's our job."
Though public land management is centric to the discussions, private land concerns, especially with the return of wolves to the region, will also be a topic of conversation. "Our goal is to create a climate of peaceful coexistence, where wolves are welcomed by their human neighbors," said Price.