To me, September has always been synonymous with beginnings and the new school year – the promises of sharpened pencils, crisp notebook paper, and fresh starts. The Columbia Land Conservancy is going back to school to focus on the lands we own and manage, one of the top priorities highlighted in the recently completed Strategic Vision. What’s on the lesson plan?
- Clarifying goals: Developing a plan for the entire system of CLC properties that includes strategies for managing natural resources, ensuring infrastructure is safe and maintained, and guaranteeing that each place’s unique qualities are highlighted and stewarded.
- Engaging in signature projects: Completing the boardwalk replacement at Ooms and managing the forest resources at Schor.
- Creating and enhancing strategic partnerships: Defining goals for the volunteer program, piloting a new hunting system, and assessing educational programs to ensure access, diversity, and equity across all CLC-owned properties.
Creating a vision for managing public lands
The first step to managing any resource well is to better understand it. CLC owns and manages ten properties open to the public for recreation, experiencing wildlife, and just enjoying being outdoors. These properties range from the secluded shady forests of Harris and Drowned Lands Swamp to the wide-open spaces of Overmountain and Ooms. Some are great places for family picnics, trail runs, or daily dog walks. Others are better suited for birdwatching, finding rare plants, or quiet reflection. All of them contain important natural resources and are part of the history of the land, which began long before it was known as Columbia County.
Creating a vision for managing these places will include carefully considering each site’s cultural and ecological history, unique natural resources, and balancing how to best provide public access to nature without erasing the former or threatening the latter.
A committee of staff and board members will begin meeting this year to create an overall vision for CLC’s entire public lands portfolio that addresses important questions like:
- How can we protect each site’s natural resources? Forests, grasslands, and water features require different management techniques that address threats like invasive species, impacts from deer, and climate change. The vision will create high-level plans for how CLC intends to manage these habitats to ensure they are viable in the long term. It will also address how to better display management techniques so that people visiting the sites can take action at home.
- Where do people fit into the landscape? Some places are more like hidden gems – quiet places where you may not encounter another human being, perfect for quietly contemplating a rare moment of silence in a busy world. Others are more like public squares – gathering places for families, outdoor classrooms for school groups, a group’s regular dog walking spot. The vision will carefully consider how much traffic is ideal for each site to ensure everyone who wants to can have access to nature without impacting the qualities that make each place so special.
While the committee works to carefully craft the vision for all public lands, several high-priority projects are underway.
- Implementing the Ooms management plan. Replacing the damaged boardwalk is the top priority for Ooms this fall. Construction will begin during the dry season, and we hope to host a public ribbon cutting celebration next spring as the weather warms. Stay tuned for more information about construction dates!
- Managing forests at Schor. The forests at this beautiful property in Red Rock are important not only for the wildlife that call it home but also for the entire surrounding landscape. Schor is part of a large forest that extends from the Appalachian Mountains north into Canada that is important not only for animals that require big blocks of unbroken land for their territories (like bears and mountain lions) but also for plants and animals that must move in response to climate change. CLC hopes to receive funding from a state grant program that will make it possible to ensure those forests are healthy. This management plan includes a variable density thinning to promote a more uneven-aged forest composition, a deer exclosure to limit and demonstrate the impacts of deer on forest regeneration, and competing vegetation control to limit the spread of invasive plant species. This project will serve as a model for landowners and forest managers in the region who aspire to implement similar practices in their own woods.
Caring for public land well requires considering multiple perspectives and enlisting our whole community. This fall, CLC will engage with partners and supporters to strengthen alliances.
- Creating a strong volunteer program. Volunteers play a key role in keeping trails open, invasive weeds under control, and infrastructure safe. This year we’ll consider how best to incorporate volunteers into management of CLC properties – supporting folks who want to get out on the trails on their own, youth groups interested in community service, and hosting group workdays to inspire community land care.
- Partnering with hunters to manage deer. Oh dear, does Columbia County have too many deer! These four-legged fauna are wreaking havoc on forests, spreading invasive weeds, and colliding with cars. Hunting is a critical conservation tool and cultural practice, and CLC is working closely with hunters to make hunting at Overmountain, Hand Hollow, and Schor a safe and effective management tool for controlling hungry herbivores. This fall, staff are launching a new hunting program that will make it easier for hunters to know who’s sharing the forest with them and report harvests. Finding places to hunt and learning how to hunt can be incredibly steep hurdles to participating in this activity. Partnerships with organizations like Hunters of Color (HoC), which pairs new hunters with experienced mentors, can help break down those barriers. CLC hosted a spring turkey hunt at Overmountain in partnership with HoC last May and looks forward to more events like this in the future. These programs and partnerships are designed to expand access to more hunters while keeping sites safe – ensuring positive impacts on our habitats and making it possible for more people to enjoy the outdoors.
- Evaluating educational and public programs. Hunting isn’t the only outdoor activity that can be difficult for people to participate in. Trails can be inaccessible to people with disabilities, hard to find for those without transportation, and unwelcoming to the new hiker. We will reach out to partners to assess what barriers exist to accessing programming and develop a plan to better meet the needs of a broader constituency.
These activities are just one small slice of the large impact your donation to CLC makes. If you’d like to take a hike, learn more about the initiatives described here, or sit and enjoy the forest – please be in touch!