Collaborations Shine at Land Board Awards


Recipients of the 2020 Land Board Awards restored high desert habitats, revived wetlands, support growth of native fish, and cleaned up waterways

STATEWIDE – When Oregonians collaborate, there’s not much they can’t do. The recipients of the 2020 Land Board Awards have come together to restore high desert habitats in eastern Oregon, brought rare wetlands back to life in the southwest corner of the state, clear the way for native fish to enter the Crooked River, and compassionately clean up waterways in Portland.

Inspiring meaningful work for eastern Oregon habitat

Jefferson Jacobs’s commitment to engaging volunteers in restoration projects has helped enhance thousands of lives along with thousands of acres.

Jacobs has led riparian restoration efforts in Oregon for more than a decade. Rethinking the role of volunteers, he says, has had big benefits.

“The idea of using volunteers for meaningful restoration work is totally far out,” says Jacobs, of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. “People think, well, volunteers can pull cheat grass or pick up cigarette butts. Beginning projects by looking at volunteers as a ready resource led us to realize how much significant work can be done by hand.”

In a recent habitat enhancement project at Hay Creek in Cottonwood Canyon State Park in Gilliam County, Jacobs coordinated multi-day work outings with more than 100 volunteers, who contributed more than two thousand work hours. The work established six beaver dam analog complexes and more than 9,000 square feet of revegetation riparian habitat.

Jacobs’s particular talent is inspiration, says ONDA Executive Director Ryan Houston. 

“Whatever a project needs – whether it’s more hands, more resources, or community support – his spark lights the way for others to get involved,” Houston says.  

Inspired by Jacobs, the Department of State Lands this year added a new “Catalyst Award” which will recognize an individual partner whose efforts advance significant change.

Restoring rare wetlands with new technology

Over an eight-year project, the Oregon Department of Transportation and partners returned abundant native species to nearly 200 acres of rare vernal pool wetland habitat.

Using new technology and innovative techniques, ODOT and key partners The Nature Conservancy and CC Patterson & Associates restored vernal pools, an unusual type of wetland that dries during the summer heat and fills up in the rainy season. To locate the original pools, for example, the team reviewed historic aerial photos and lidar data.

“We then went out to spots where vernal pools were likely and began to slowly dig, much like an archaeologist would,” says Paul Benton, ODOT Wetland Scientist. “By using this technique, we were able to uncover the old vernal pool surfaces.”

The number of partners grew over the years, with each contributing additional benefits – for example, providing native species seeds to other restoration projects, hosting educational tours and field visits, and planting riparian areas.

Creativity and collaboration paid off. The vernal pool wetlands area doubled, and endangered plant populations that were nonexistent or minimal pre-project now number in the tens of thousands.

Helping native fish reach Crooked River habitat

Partners worked for decades to keep the fish passage project at Opal Springs dam moving forward.

“We knew what needed to happen to help these fish,” says Chris Gannon, Director of the Crooked River Watershed Council. “Collaborating, staying focused and looking for the right opportunities at the right time, and coming together to raise a project, is the Oregon way.”

One of Oregon’s highest priorities for fish passage, the project provides native steelhead and salmon with safe, easy entry to 125 miles of Crooked River habitat by raising the dam height and installing a fish ladder.

In November 2019 – just hours after completion of the fish ladder – a steelhead entered the Crooked River without human help for the first time in more than 50 years. In the months since, 28 steelhead have gained safe passage.

Bringing compassion to camp cleanups

SOLVE and Metro are collaborative, compassionate partners in ongoing efforts to clean up camps along Oregon waterways. 

Camp cleanups are complex work – particularly when respecting both people and natural resources is the goal. The Oregon Department of State Lands quickly realized partners with different skills and strengths were needed.

Enter Metro and SOLVE. Metro’s RID Patrol team cleans up dumped or abandoned garbage, work that’s increasingly involved engaging the houseless community. SOLVE’s volunteer-powered cleanup projects have helped protect the health of Oregon’s lands and waterways for decades. 

“This is an ideal collaboration, with state, local, and nonprofit partners coming together to address a difficult issue thoughtfully and effectively,” says DSL Director Vicki L. Walker.

About the Land Board Awards

Every year, the State Land Board honors exceptional projects and partners for their contributions to protecting and enhancing Oregon’s treasured natural resources.

In the sixteen years since the Land Board Awards began, more than 30 awards have been presented to recipients that are as extraordinary as the people and communities of Oregon.

Read more about the 2020 Land Board Award recipients at

About Author

Ali Hansen is the Communications Manager at the Oregon Department of State Lands.

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