A Productive Partnership: LandWatch's track record shows it's here to stay | Guest Commentary | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Opinion » Guest Commentary

A Productive Partnership: LandWatch's track record shows it's here to stay

Last week, the Source Weekly published an article, “Green Machine,” that asked if Central Oregon had the capacity to support two land use advocacy organizations.



Last week, the Source Weekly published an article, "Green Machine," that asked if Central Oregon had the capacity to support two land use advocacy organizations. As Executive Director of one of those organizations - Central Oregon LandWatch - I'm writing to express confidence that it does.

As I told the article's author, Anne Aurand, and as LandWatch and 1000 Friends of Oregon have discussed with each other, our real challenge is how to articulate our unique but overlapping messages and missions to the larger community and help people understand the benefits of each.

We're writing now in an attempt to do that and to give readers a better understanding of who Central Oregon LandWatch is, what we've achieved, and our plans going forward.

LandWatch was formed in the 1980s as the Sisters Forest Planning Committee. During our early years, among other achievements, we worked to protect the Whychus Creek as a Wild & Scenic River.

Over the last decade, LandWatch's legal efforts prevented the parcelization and development of the Skyline Forest and preserved the opportunity to protect the area through conservation purchase. In 2009, LandWatch crafted and worked to successfully introduce legislation that ultimately became "The Skyline Forest Bill" creating an opportunity to protect more than 96% of the 33,000-acre Skyline Forest tract as a Community Forest.

LandWatch has been actively engaged in Bend's UGB expansion for close to five years beginning with a challenge of the region's coordinated population forecast in 2005/2006. In 2007/2008 we served on the City's UGB Technical Advisory Committee. Last year we filed a detailed protest of the City's expansion proposal to the Department of Land Conservation and Development. The vast majority of our points of protest have been upheld and our effort has been very influential in shaping the process.

We're extremely proud of our efforts to protect the Metolius River area which date back to our involvement in the formation of the 86,000-acre Metolius Conservation Area in 1990 and beyond.

While many readers may be aware of our efforts to lead last year's campaign to establish the Metolius Area of Critical Statewide Concern, that effort was the final push in a multi-year process to protect the area against destination resort proposals that began in 2006 when we challenged Jefferson County's proposed destination resort map. Had LandWatch not fought in the courts, Jefferson County's map would have been approved and the opportunity to legislatively protect the Metolius would have taken an enormous hit.

When then-Senator Ben Westlund introduced Senate Bill 30 in 2007, LandWatch - working as we so often have with the Friends of the Metolius - helped elevate the issue to one of statewide interest.

In 2008, after Governor Kulongoski threatened to veto SB 30, we kept the pressure on and worked diligently to find a legislative champion for a renewed attempt to protect the area in 2009, which we did in Representative Brian Clem. We drafted the legislative language that became HB 3100 and then HB 3298 and then worked around the clock to pass that bill into law.

In 2009, we made our first forays into research and education producing a comprehensive fiscal impact study of destination resorts and a 7-minute documentary on the impact of groundwater pumping on natural springs and native fish in the Deschutes Basin.

During Oregon's 2010 session, we led the effort to pass a bill (HB 3647) that improves soil science standards for agricultural zoning decisions. We helped pass legislation (SB 1031) that set the stage for broader destination resort reform. And we helped pass legislation (SB 1036) creating an opportunity to revisit eastern Oregon's guest ranch policy and improve wildlife protections.

As we look to the future, we're adding resources to broaden our expertise and capacity. Last month we welcomed former State Senator Charlie Ringo, former Deschutes County Planning Commissioner and economist Brenda Pace, and former Deschutes County Planning Director Catherine Morrow to our board. This month, we're bringing on a full-time lobbyist.

What can you expect from Central Oregon LandWatch in the future? You can expect that we'll continue to challenge land use proposals such as the County's 19th street expansion and Bend's proposed UGB expansion that put private development interests before the public interest; that we'll continue our legal defense of the Skyline Forest and Metolius areas; and that we'll continue to engage in ongoing land use processes like Deschutes County's Destination Resort Remapping proposal, offering constructive input and engaging in legal appeals when necessary.

At the state level, we'll be working to build on our legislative successes and more effectively promote smart land use planning and conservation for rural Oregon.

Serving Central Oregon as we have has been our passion and our pleasure for nearly 25 years. We're grateful to be strongly supported from within our own community and we look forward to a strong partnership in years to come.

Editor's note: The author is a former journalist who worked as a reporter and columnist for the Source before joining LandWatch in 2006.

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