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Wildlands Conservancy buys 30,000-acre Jefferson County ranch for $16.5 million for new nature preserve

Wildlands Conservancy's first Oregon acquisition, the Enchanted Rocks Preserve near Mitchell, includes a 2-mile stretch of the John Day River
The Wildlands Conservancy
Wildlands Conservancy's first Oregon acquisition, the Enchanted Rocks Preserve near Mitchell, includes a 2-mile stretch of the John Day River

(Update: Adding $16.5 million purchase price)

Cherry Creek Ranch newly renamed Enchanted Rocks Preserve; group's first Oregon acquisition

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — The Wildlands Conservancy, owner of California’s largest nonprofit nature preserve system, announced Wednesday the group’s first out-of-state acquisition: the $16.5 million purchase of the 30,000-acre Cherry Creek Ranch, near Mitchell in Central Oregon, newly named the Enchanted Rocks Preserve, after the landscape’s fascinating geology.

Here's their announcement, in full:

“Each of our 23 preserves are destination properties, and many preserves are at the scale of a state or national park,” said Frazier Haney, the Conservancy’s executive director. “We chose Cherry Creek Ranch because of the land’s strikingly beautiful scenery; the watchable wildlife, including Rocky Mountain elk, bald eagles and beavers; the fishing, swimming and kayaking opportunities on the National Wild and Scenic John Day River; and the many ways we can restore ecosystems for imperiled species.”

The Center for Biological Diversity partnered in buying the property by helping provide acquisition funds.

“No group in California is better suited than The Wildlands Conservancy for rewilding large landscapes and taking bold actions to make ecosystems more resilient to climate change,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs and co-founder of the Center. “We hope conservation-minded landowners and donors join us in helping the conservancy promote a more species-protective management approach throughout the West.”

“It’s an honor to partner with the Center for Biological Diversity,” said Haney. “The Center is recognized as the most effective group in America in protecting imperiled species.”

TWC has classified Enchanted Rocks as a “climate preserve” because all land-management and financial decisions will be made in favor of creating resilience to the impacts of climate change and maximizing the sequestration of atmospheric carbon. As a climate preserve, deliberate “climate actions” will be taken to enhance well-recognized climate and species resiliency goals.

● TWC will support the expansion of regional wildlands connectivity by cooperating to create the Bureau of Land Management’s Sutton Mountain National Monument on the preserve’s eastern boundary that will allow for species movement and adaptation in response to climate change. “The Wildlands Conservancy will support the Sutton Mountain National Monument campaign in Oregon,” said TWC communications director Sara Seburn. “The Wildlands Conservancy made the largest land gift in the Department of the Interior’s history, more than 587,000 acres, to create the 1.6 million-acre Mojave Trails National Monument in California.”

● TWC will eliminate the diversion of Cherry Creek for the flood irrigation of cattle pastures. In Central Oregon’s severe climate-driven drought, TWC will leave all water in Cherry Creek for native red-banded trout and the federally threatened summer run steelhead, and to preserve and connect riparian habitat and protect biodiversity. This action is called for in the Mid-Columbia River Conservation and Recovery Plan.

The Wildlands Conservancy’s climate preserve designation will help guide land managers toward new land management practices based on reducing the impacts of anthropocentric climate change — the Earth’s most life-threatening environmental challenge.

“The Wildlands’ climate preserve classification will help initiate the first new paradigm for land management of the 21st century,” said Carl Pope, the longest-serving executive director in Sierra Club history and co-author of Climate of Hope. “Above all, until Yellowstone was created, there could be no national park system in the U.S. — or anywhere. Until someone creates and then demonstrates the first climate preserve, there cannot be a global network of preserved areas doing the job they must toward rescuing the human community from the climate crisis.”

“As part of our dual mission, The Wildlands Conservancy has been California’s nonprofit leader in providing free outdoor education programs for school children from disadvantaged communities for more than two decades,” said TWC’s outdoor education director Elba Mora. “On remote preserves like Enchanted Rocks, we will diversify our portfolio of programs to nurture and inspire the land stewards of the future.”

Charles Thomas, the executive director of Outward Bound Adventures, said, “For 25 years, The Wildlands Conservancy has partnered with us to get children of color into the outdoors. Wherever they work, they offer stakeholder opportunities to the local Tribes. Even more important, their preserves are open to the public daily for free with a diverse staff. I’ve never seen a land-management agency with a larger welcome mat.”

“One of our main goals in expanding our nature preserves throughout the West is to bring beauty into our visitors’ daily lives,” said Jenny Kidd, TWC’s Behold the Beauty program coordinator. “Beauty naturally makes people more insightful and more inspired to protect life in all its wondrous forms. And who is not happier outdoors with loved ones amid a beautiful landscape?”

For 27 years The Wildlands Conservancy has followed an idealistic ethos.

“All of our preserves are open to the public for free because if you have to pay to visit nature, you have forfeited a birthright,” said David Myers, the Conservancy’s co-founder and president. “We have never used our preserves to sell carbon credits to offset polluters or to sell mitigation credits to offset development. All of the lands we protect represent true additionality to conservation.”

Enchanted Rocks Preserve is now the largest nonprofit-owned nature preserve in Oregon and will be open to the public after agency permitting and the development of national park-quality visitor facilities.

“TWC will soon announce expansion into another western state,” Haney said.

The Wildlands Conservancy will create well-paying local jobs for preserve employees who will live onsite and promote the local economies of surrounding communities.

Learn more about the Enchanted Rocks Preserve and sign up for updates about free access here.

Article Topic Follows: Environment

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