A woman stands on a hillside looking out at dramatically lit thunderclouds in the distance.
Beginning of a Thunderstorm Watching in awe of a rare thunderstorm in Oregon. © Sarah Alvarez/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Stories in Oregon

2020: The Year in Conservation

In challenging times, nature's potential gives us hope for the future.

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Together we can make a difference


Despite the significant challenges that 2020 has presented, TNC staff have remained relentlessly focused on protecting the lands and waters on which we all depend. We know there is no time to lose—the twin crises of climate change and the dramatic loss of our planet’s biodiversity demand immediate action. All paths to a better world depend on our ability to protect the lands and waters that provide us all with clean air and water, healthy food and a stable climate.

Though the global pandemic impacted the ways in which we work this year—we had to pause important field projects while we worked from home and temporarily close our preserves—with your support, we achieved major wins for nature and people.  As we look to the future, we will be doubling down in the areas where we know we can have the greatest impact—protecting and restoring healthy lands, oceans, and freshwater and addressing climate change. Given the urgency of our mission, we must increase our focus and direct our resources here to ensure results. We have a tremendous amount of work to do over the next decade and beyond.  But the science is clear, we have a plan and together with partnership, innovation and your support, everything is possible.

As we chart a new course forward, nature will matter more than ever—and we have the opportunity to highlight its crucial role in sustaining our health, our livelihoods and our well-being.

CEO, The Nature Conservancy
Columbia River Gorge in Oregon
Columbia River Gorge The Great American Outdoors Act helps protect iconic places like Oregon's beloved Columbia River Gorge. © Becky Fajardo

The Great American Outdoors Act: Great News for Nature

TNC staff in Oregon were instrumental in shaping and advocating for the historic enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act. Originally created under a 1964 law that mandated offshore oil and gas proceeds to support land and water conservation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has never been fully and permanently funded until now. ...

TNC staff in Oregon were instrumental in shaping and advocating for the historic enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act. Originally created under a 1964 law that mandated offshore oil and gas proceeds to support land and water conservation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has never been fully and permanently funded until now. Thanks to the Great American Outdoors Act, LWCF will invest $900 million annually to protect nature, expand recreation opportunities and conserve treasured natural places and ecosystems across the country. Oregon’s most iconic places—Columbia River Gorge, Table Rocks, West Eugene Wetlands, Silver Falls State Park and many more—have been funded by LWCF.

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Policy advocacy remains a cornerstone of success for The Nature Conservancy. Engaging decisionmakers, utilizing policy levers and showcasing conservation outcomes is how we will drive durable change for nature and people.

Trustee Chair Emeritus, TNC Oregon

Restoring Healthy Forests

Go Behind-the-Scenes of a Controlled Burn

This year, TNC’s Oregon Fire Manager gave a virtual presentation that illustrates the incredible coordination and preparation that goes into a controlled burn along with the agencies and partners we work with to make fire culture more inclusive. 

Watch the presentation on Facebook.

There are vast ecological differences between the wet forests in western Oregon and the dry forests in the east and southwest. The state’s dry forests thrive with frequent, low-intensity fires that burn every 3-30 years and maintain plants, habitats and an open forest floor. Here, the combination of ecological thinning and controlled burns are proven methods to restore the ecosystem and reduce wildfire risk to communities. In 2020, however, we saw something different; tragic wildfires in our wet forests. These forests historically burn much less frequently, every 100-500 years, but much more intensely when they do. Fires here occur when drought, dry conditions and extreme weather align as we witnessed this past September. The complexities of this ecosystem require a different approach. As state and local leaders wrestle with potential solutions, The Nature Conservancy brings the scientific expertise needed to protect our communities and keep our forests healthy and resilient. 

Living With Fire As the climate changes, the western United States is likely to see longer, hotter, dryer summers. And with that, comes wildfire. However, with forest restoration treatments like prescribed burning, TNC is helping bring good, low-intensity fire back to fire-adapted forest landscapes.

Sycan Marsh Preserve: A Living Laboratory

TNC staff have achieved major conservation success over the past 40 years at Sycan Marsh Preserve, from improving habitat for native fish and wildlife species to restoring the health and resiliency of the preserve’s wetlands and forests. Extensive scientific studies in the early days laid the foundation for four decades of successful conservation. Since then, we’ve restored the Sycan River for species such as bull and red band trout, helped ranchers utilize sustainable grazing practices to keep the landscape healthy, built the Jim Castle’s Applied Research Station to support staff and visiting researchers and partnered with the Klamath Tribes to study historical fire processes in the Klamath Basin.

A Living Laboratory for Fire & Climate Sycan Marsh Preserve Director, Craig Bienz, talks about the value of this remote Oregon preserve as a living laboratory.

In the early 2000’s, TNC received a Wings Across the Americas award from the U.S. Forest Service for research at Sycan Marsh Preserve on the impacts of wildfire, prescribed burning and insect outbreaks on cavity nesting birds. Today, the preserve has become the epicenter of international research into fire management and fire behavior. Working with practitioners and researchers from around the world and in partnership with the Klamath Tribes, our staff is uncovering the mysteries of fire behavior and how we can better manage forests around the world to decrease the risk of devastating wildfire. 

Addressing Climate Change

The climate crisis is one of the most urgent threats to people and nature, with impacts already being felt throughout Oregon and around the world. TNC creates innovative, science-based solutions and champions community-driven policy action in Oregon. Our deep local and state partnerships, proven track record in restoration and scientific credibility have helped power The Nature Conservancy as a national leader in climate change strategies.

The climate crisis isn’t coming; it’s here. TNC is uniquely positioned to advance innovative solutions and policies to address climate change and ensure clean air and water and healthy communities for generations to come.

Trustee Chair, TNC Oregon
The sun shines in the forest near Proxy Falls in Oregon.
Climate Action in Oregon In Oregon and across the world, The Nature Conservancy is working to address the climate crisis © Chandel Draine/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Working Towards Climate Action

TNC Trustees and staff advocated in the Oregon legislature for a comprehensive cap-and-invest program in 2020. Though disappointed that a lack of a quorum prevented a vote on the bill, we applaud Governor Kate Brown’s bold executive order on climate action and support this major step forward to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions and help ensure that we do our part to address the global climate crisis.

The climate crisis will impact our rural communities the most. We’re pleased to see a dedicated focus on natural and working lands in Governor Brown’s executive order to protect the people and economies of Oregon.

Oregon State Director, The Nature Conservancy

Harnessing the Power of Nature To Fight Climate Change

In Oregon, our coastal wet forests are so effective at capturing carbon that they have the potential to be globally significant in the fight against climate change when paired with a transition to clean, renewable energy. Restoring natural areas can also help us adapt to the inevitable impacts from climate change that we’re already seeing.

With your support, we completed A new joint study from researchers at Portland State University and The Nature Conservancy in Oregon found that natural and working lands have the potential to reduce emissions and help limit the impacts of climate change when paired with a transition to clean, renewable energy. Changing the ways in which we manage Oregon’s working forests, for example, could have meaningful impact on a global scale. 

A hiker in the forests at Cascade Head in Oregon.
Oregon Forests TNC Oregon's scientific work on natural climate solutions highlights the importance of our state's natural and working lands, like our forests, in helping combat the worst impacts of climate change. © Devan King/The Nature Conservancy

"This study demonstrated that climate-smart management and restoration of Oregon’s natural and working lands has an important role to play in helping to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on a global scale," said Ryan Haugo, Director of Conservation Science for The Nature Conservancy in Oregon.  

We’re Growing Healthy Air in the Portland Metro Area

What makes the difference between a neighborhood with healthy air and one without? The answer is really quite simple: trees. In Portland, there is a 13-degree difference in summertime temperatures between the forested west side and tree-less communities on the east side. A warming climate will only exacerbate this inequity. Our new Growing Healthy Air for All initiative will study which neighborhoods in Portland need more trees in the ground—and then work with community partners such as The Blueprint Foundation to green, clean and cool a more equitable city. 

Photographers and visitors overlook the city of Portland, OR, at Pittock Mansion.
Growing Healthy Air in Portland, OR During the summertime in Portland, there can be 13-degree difference between the forested west side, such as where Pittock Mansion is located, and the tree-less east side communities. © Kevin Bermingham

We Celebrated Big Wins for Nature in the Portland Metro Area

The Nature Conservancy was proud to support the successful passage of the Nature for All Ballot Measure 26-203 that will provide $475 million to help protect clean water, conserve land, fight climate change and provide equitable access to nature for all residents of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, regardless of zip code or income level.

Healthy Oceans, Lands, and Waters

People and nature need land, clean air and water and healthy, diverse oceans to thrive. Globally, only 5% of the natural lands at high risk of development are protected. Protecting, conserving and restoring land and water has always been a priority for The Nature Conservancy but as demands on our most precious natural resources continue to increase, we must do more, faster.

Oregon Coast near Bandon, OR.
Oregon Coast From the coast to the deserts, The Nature Conservancy is working to restore nature across Oregon © Andrew Kumler

Protecting the Oregon Coast

TNC has been dedicated to protecting and restoring the coastal habitats that countless wildlife and people rely on for decades. From restoring estuaries to managing fisheries for long-term sustainability, our staff are working hard on the ground and in the water to conserve the Oregon Coast.

We’re Protecting Fisheries from Climate Change

The future of Oregon’s fisheries—and the coastal livelihoods that depend on them—face a myriad of threats such as warmer and more acidic water due to climate change. Our scientists have been working closely with coastal fishermen, managers and agencies to create and implement fishery management and climate change scenario plans that would help secure the future of fishing communities, Dungeness crab and other important species. 

Oregon’s fisheries face many threats. The Nature Conservancy is working with the fishing community and other partners to ensure that the people and wildlife that depend on the ocean continue to thrive.

Owner of Local Ocean and TNC Trustee
Aerial view of busy docks full of fishing boats.
Working with Fisheries TNC in Oregon works closely with coastal fishermen, managers, and agencies to help the state's fisheries navigate a changing climate and operate more sustainably. © Brady Holden

Restoring Estuaries for Salmon and other Wildlife

It's hard to overstate the importance of healthy estuaries for life in the Pacific Northwest. Estuaries and tidal wetlands—where rivers and oceans meet—are ecologically critical habitats, sustaining countless species including Pacific salmon, shellfish, crab, migratory birds and people. As part of our ongoing effort to restore estuaries along the coast, we made major progress by completing an inventory of tide gates in eight rivers this year to identify the areas in which conservation would have the most benefit to salmon populations.

Together with partners such as Trout Unlimited and the Oregon Farm Bureau, we also advocated for a new state program that allows farmers to maintain their land in ways that minimize impacts to fish, amphibians and other wildlife. This work resulted in TNC being awarded the “Good Faith Award” from the Oregon Farm Bureau which is offered to “the rare individuals who will step outside the rhetoric, roll up their sleeves and come to the table willing and ready to solve complex issues.”

A drone shot of Kilchis Estuary Preserve near Tillamook, OR.
Kilchis Estuary Preserve Overview of the Kilchis Estuary Preserve, which TNC in Oregon helps protect and restore. © Zach Putnam

Designing More Fish-Friendly Gear

Lingcod Pots for Sustainable Bycatch Solutions Our team at the coast continued an exciting and innovative collaboration with local fishermen this year. The goal: to create a new way to fish for lingcod that would reduce bycatch and avoid trapping threatened species such as yellow-eye rockfish in the process.

Saving Humpback Whales from Entanglement

As the climate changes, humpback whales—who typically swim farther out at sea—are moving closer to the Oregon shoreline. In response to this, we’ve been working proactively to reduce the dangers they will face closer to shore. Because crab pots and fishing gear can be a common source of entanglement for humpback whales, we helped inform new regulations on recreational and commercial crab fishing that will help ensure these gentle giants remain safe as they pass by.

Humpback whale and calf swimming in the ocean.
Humpback Whales The Nature Conservancy in Oregon is working to reduce the dangers humpback whales face when swimming closer to the Oregon shoreline. © Justin Bruhn /TNC Photo Contest 2018

Saving the Sagebrush Sea

The Sagebrush Sea is disappearing: we lose 1 million acres of this iconic western landscape each year to the spread of invasive annual grasses that prime the land for frequent and intense wildfires. Restoring native plants is critical to the future of this unique habitat and the countless species that rely on it. We’ve partnered with some of the brightest minds at TNC, collaborating with staff from seven states on innovative science that will improve the management and restoration of the sagebrush steppe—and stop the destruction.

Paper packets of seeds laid out in rows in the grass in front of a kneeling researcher.
Native Seed Packets Restoring native plants is critical to the future of the Sagebrush Sea. © Owen Baughman/TNC
A scientist plants native plant seeds in the ground to help restore the Sagebrush Sea.
Innovative Restoration Oregon scientists investigate innovative solutions to restoration of sagebrush steppe that promote native perennial grasses and increase ecosystem resilience. © Owen Baughman/TNC

We Were Honored for Innovative Restoration Work in the Whetstone Savanna

TNC staff were thrilled to accept the Wetland Award from the Oregon Land Board this year for a long-term collaboration with Oregon Department of Transportation to restore vernal pools and endangered species in the Whetstone Savanna. After years of work, vernal pool habitat has doubled in size and vernal pool fairy shrimp populations increased to four times the pre-restoration level. Populations of endangered plants numbering in the thousands have been re-established and native plants more than doubled on uplands and nearly tripled in pools, accompanied by substantial gains in native diversity and a dramatic reduction in invasive weeds.

“This project is a major achievement in restoring vernal pool habitat,” said Treasurer Tobias Read, who presented the award. “Years of hard work, innovation, and collaboration resulted in an outstanding outcome for Oregon.”

After restoration work at Whetsone Savanna.
Before restoration work at Whetsone Savanna.
Vernal Pool Habitat Restoration After years of work, vernal pool habitat at Whetstone Savanna has doubled in size and vernal pool fairy shrimp populations increased to four times the pre-restoration level. Before view on left and after on right. © Keith Perchemlides

Ray C. Davis Volunteers of the Year

TNC Oregon volunteer Helena Tesselaarat Zumwalt Prairie Preserve.
Helena Tesselaar Helena has been recognized as a Ray C. Davis Volunteer of the Year for 2020. © Ashley Smithers

Helena Tesselaar

Since first volunteering at the Portland office front desk in 2014, Helena’s positive attitude and strong project management skills stood out. While warmly greeting visitors and callers, Helena has also made major contributions to critical projects. She now serves as the volunteer program team’s primary data entry volunteer and leads special projects, including training manual compilation, bulk mailings and event preparation. Helena has also served as a naturalist and steward at several TNC preserves. 

“Volunteering here means more than performing a task. I feel part of a community, working together toward a sustainable future with both great, appreciative, staff and other enthusiastic volunteers, who are being regarded as valuable members of the team.” says Helena Tesselaar, 2020 Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer Brian Casey at a Juniper Hills Preserve restoration work party.
Brian Casey Brian has been recognized as a Ray C. Davis Volunteer of the Year for 2020. © Tim Jewett

Brian Casey

A regular participant at TNC volunteer restoration events since 2013, Brian Casey has attended 26 work parties in geographies ranging from the Oregon coast to Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in the far northeastern corner of the state. Brian’s ongoing commitment to Camassia Natural Area, where he served as a naturalist for many years and remains a committed volunteer steward, has been of tremendous impact.

“Brian is always looking for ways to help with on the ground projects and ready to jump in with assistance when asked. He has a way of making events more fun by bringing a friendly, positive energy and good ideas for how to approach the tasks for the day,” writes stewardship manager Joe Buttafuoco.

Volunteer With Us in Oregon!

Volunteers like Helena and Brian are instrumental in helping The Nature Conservancy achieve its mission of creating a world in which people and nature thrive.

Learn more about Oregon's volunteer program or keep in touch when you sign up for our Volunteer E-newsletter.