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The Virtue of Patience in Land Conservation

A guest commentary about land conservation.



Patience is a virtue, or so the saying goes. In fact, there are many quotes and clichés which talk about patience. American theologian Lyman Abbott claimed, "Patience is passion tamed." Journalist Ambrose Bierce was more cynical in his view, declaring patience a "minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue." Whether your view of patience is something to admire and strive for in a complex and busy world or something akin to delay and procrastination, it's clear that patience and perseverance have key roles in the world of land conservation. The Deschutes Land Trust can only work at the pace of landowners - and conversations with landowners (whether private or public) take time.

"Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow. That is patience." - Anonymous.

Fifteen years ago the notion of salmon and steelhead returning to the upper Deschutes and its tributaries was merely a dream, and the skeptics outweighed the believers. In 1997, the Deschutes Land Trust began an ambitious conservation program with partners such as Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to protect land for returning salmon and steelhead. Many believed in restoring crucial habitat, yet were unsure if these magnificent sea-run fish would ever return to the rivers and creeks of Central Oregon to reestablish one of the Northwest's most unique and notable fisheries. And yet, back in May, a four-year-old male Chinook that was spawned at the Round Butte Hatchery in 2007 calmly navigated his way back up the Deschutes and became the first upper basin fish to do so since dams blocked migration in the mid 1960's. With patience, hard work and community support, the "steelhead stronghold" the Deschutes Land Trust is creating along Whychus Creek will soon tell similar success stories.

A famous Turkish proverb states, "Patience is the key to paradise." This is where the Land Trust's extensive membership program kicks in. Partnerships with our more than 1,200 members across the world allow us to stay the course, develop plans for eventual stewardship, and simply stated, keep us at the negotiating table with landowners. Our members appreciate the inherent virtue in a patient and thoughtful approach, and in many instances 'paradise' is indeed the result. Take a hike or Land Trust sponsored tour along the recently conserved Whychus Canyon Preserve and you'll probably agree. And realize the acquisition of Skyline forest will only happen with patience and perseverance, and members' support keeps us at the negotiating table.

We go to China for our next quote: "With time and patience the Mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown." The current restoration project at Camp Polk Meadow, one of the largest streamside restoration projects in the Northwest, is a perfect example. Begun in 2000, the restoration work is now in its 11th year. The preserve contains roughly 1.4 miles of Whychus Creek, including wetlands, meadows, aspen groves and ponderosa pine stands. It is also a birding hotspot. Partnering with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Deschutes National Forest, Deschutes River Conservancy and countless others, the Land Trust's goal is to return the creek to its original meandering path through the meadow. (After the great flood of 1964, the Corps of Engineers pushed the creek to the south, creating a narrow and straight channel that effectively eliminated important fish, bird and plant habitat.)

To date the project has included digging the restored channel, planting more than 180,000 native plants, and continual invasive weed removal programs, along with educational tours open to the public. The water table in the meadow is already five to six feet higher than when the project began, signifying the return of cold groundwater which will release into the creek, especially important in late summer to help cool the stream. Early next year we'll "pull the plug" and reunite the creek with the meadow, as nature originally designed. "Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience," famously advised Ralph Waldo Emerson.

To be sure, protecting more than 8,200 acres took the Land Trust more than 15 years to accomplish, and we've demonstrated that a little patience can protect some amazing places for wildlife, scenic views and the vitality of our local communities. Land Trust supporters also subscribe to a Greek proverb about patience: "One minute of patience, ten years of peace." And while that formula might not be exact in all applications, it is true that a few years of patience in conservation equals lands protected forever.

Zak Boone is Associate Director of the Deschutes Land Trust. You can reach him at:

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