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Investing in Nature

Whetstone Savanna Preserve is home to Oregon's first-ever conservation bank.

Conservancy ecologist Keith Perchemlides, volunteer Belinda Lo, and AmeriCorps conservation team member Cara Conroy survey Oregon's first conservation bank, located at an Oregon Department of Transporation site near Medford.

by Melissa Roy-Hart

Keith Perchemlides has spent years researching how to keep forests healthy. So imagine his surprise when, last year, he was racing the seasonal clock to inventory southwest Oregon’s prairie wetlands.

“It was quite a steep learning curve,” said ecologist Perchemlides. “But, being new to the Conservancy, I really enjoyed discovering a foreign landscape, literally getting my feet wet in vernal pools and surveying the extraordinary natural wonders they support.”

The terrain wasn’t the only novel thing about where Perchemlides was working. The 80-acre site near Medford is the state’s first conservation bank, established by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

A conservation bank is land set aside to protect endangered, threatened or at-risk species. In exchange for preserving the property’s habitats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants credits to the landowner, who can then use them to offset environmental impacts of projects elsewhere, such as highways.

Like the Conservancy’s adjacent Whetstone Savanna Preserve, the ODOT bank offers critical habitats to migrating birds and other species, including the threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp and the endangered large-flowered wooly meadowfoam. Potential habitat for the endangered Cook’s desert parsley is also found here.

Assessment of the site is nearing completion — Keith’s studying oaks now. The next step is refining the management plan. With ODOT, Conservancy ecologists are recommending restoration activities including invasive species removal, which has already begun.

Conservation banks can be win-win for everyone — landowners, developers, the public and, of course, the flora and fauna they’re protecting. “But spending my days outdoors, exploring an area never before studied and helping to preserve it,” said Perchemlides, “well, let’s just say I’m laughing all the way to the bank.”

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