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Project Storytellers

Since 2017, the Center for Environmental Futures has been asking Oregonians to tell us how they understand and experience Oregon’s public lands. So far our team has completed fifty-one oral histories. Here, we feature highlights from four of their stories. 

Diane Daggett (center) speaks with Stephanie LeMenager and Marsha Weisiger

Diane Daggett

“We set out on a mission to prove that the health of the community and the health of the land are intrinsically linked. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Diane Daggett is a fourth-generation rancher in Wallowa County and the founding director of Wallowa Resources. Her great-great-grandfather arrived with the second wagon train into Wallowa County, two years after Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce were forcibly removed from the Wallowa Valley after a long period of resistance.

In the 1990s, Daggett became the planning director for Wallowa County, Oregon, and later the founding director of Wallowa Resources. When listing for the Snake River chinook salmon was proposed, the community was in an uproar. Some suggested they should follow the lead of the people of Nye County, Nevada, where they famously opposed any federal oversight of public lands. Here, Daggett describes the collaboration process.

“But there was this other opportunity emerging in collaboration.”

In the backroom of a local bakery, a group of people met, including representatives of the Nez Perce Tribe and Martin Goebel, of Sustainable Northwest, a Portland environmental group hoping to launch its first project.

“So in the early gathering, we were pretty intentional about trying to bring together bridgers and opinion leaders. The opinion leaders who would go out and say, ‘You know I think this might be a good thing for us to take a look at.’ And people would respect that—right?—and give a little nod. And the bridgers would get people together. . . . We intended to be inclusive, and so we were pulling together Forest Service people with local government people, with those who were aligned with the conservation movement, with mill owners, with loggers. You know, we were trying to pull together everyone, who—some people really didn’t like each other. They had been at war with each other, and so it was a little dicey. . . .

“We first had a conversation about values. . . . Because it’s really easy for us to talk from a basis of interest. . . . What I’m interested in is who gives me that paycheck. Right?  But we can find common ground when we talk about values and we talk from the basis of shared core values. And so we started out with bringing everyone together and just asking some open-ended questions: ‘So what do you love about this place? What do you want to keep here?  What’s important to you that we keep, we not lose?’ And when diverse interests heard common themes: ‘We want the land to be healthy. . . . We want a strong economy. We want safety for our children. We want to keep our rural character.’ . . . So it was after that—after establishing that core values that we share—when the road got rough, that’s what we went back to every time. ‘Remember?  Remember, we all want the same things ultimately.’ . . .

“And so the upside is—it’s fun. It’s nice to build relationships. When there was something sticky, we could take a walk in the woods, you know, and just talk about it. . . .

“The problem with collaboration is that it’s tied to those relationships. And so every time someone moves to a different location, gets a different job, dies, you’ve got to rebuild a relationship again. And it takes time. . . . So we set out on a mission to prove that the health of the community and the health of the land are intrinsically linked. They’re not mutually exclusive. That’s what we set out to prove.”

Jack Southworth

Jack Southworth

“I want to place my bet on the side of higher biodiversity, of higher water tables, of more productive meadows, of a more fulfilling life, and it just feels better to me than the way we were ranching in the past.”

Jack Southworth is a rancher in Harney County, Oregon, and a founder of the High Desert Partnership. His great grandfather homesteaded in Oregon in 1885.

By the early 1980s, the land his family had ranched for three generations was eroding due to decisions made by his grandfather and father—eliminating beavers, willows, and fences, and giving their cattle unfettered access to rangelands. Cattle prices were going down, and interest rates were going up. Here, Southworth describes how he and his wife, Theresa, were heavily in debt, on the verge of bankruptcy.

“And so what—what can we do? At this time we’re starting to learn about Alan Savory and holistic management. And so Theresa and I put together $2,000, and we go to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in her camper van and learn about holistic management for a week. But all I could hear was Savory grazing, rotational grazing, and some economic analysis, because we’re on the verge of . . . going broke. I didn’t want to hear about setting a three-part goal for quality of life and forms of production and future landscape. All I wanted to hear was how to survive until next year, to keep the banker wolf from our door. . . .

“But Theresa was able to hear that, you know, we really need this three-part goal, and eventually we came up with a three-part goal that talked about quality of life and talked about forest production. And so [our idea for] quality of life was that we wanted the ability to pursue our own personal goals rather than being slaves to the ranch. That was a breakthrough. We wanted forms of production [that were] more than just a profit from livestock. We wanted an abundance of wildlife. And so what kind of landscape supports those things? And we thought it would be a river lined with willow that would be good habitat for fish and beaver. We wanted a rangeland, a dense stand of perennial grasses with some shrubs. We wanted a forest with different species that was park-like and fire-tolerant, but provided lumber we could harvest. And so all of a sudden we drew a picture.

“But drawing that picture was hard. . . . If we’re going to have a river lined with willows and good habitat for fish and beaver, we needed to exclude cattle from them during the winter feeding period. And so we built a short stretch of fence along Silvies River, and it was a hard thing to do because we had to keep it a secret from my dad.”

One day his dad asked what he was doing.

“And I said, ‘Well, we decided we wanted to grow willows along Silvies River again, and the only way to do that was to limit access from our cattle. So for a quarter-mile stretch, just to see what happens, we’re going to fence both sides of Silvies River.’ [My dad] takes his hat off his head, throws it on the ground. He says, ‘You know what? I spent my lifetime tearing down those homesteaders’ fences and you’re just putting them back up again.’ . . . But there’s always a generational struggle. . . .

“[S]till he let us do it. And we were able to carry on with that and we were able to see that the banks vegetate. We were able to see the creek narrow. We were able to see this little bit of sinuosity. We don’t have beavers back to that stretch yet, but we do have willows growing there again. We do have a narrower bank.

“And someone asked me, ‘Well, isn’t this a gamble? I mean, are you going to pay for this?’ And I say, yes, but I want to gamble or I want to place my bet on the side of higher biodiversity, of higher water tables, of more productive meadows, of a more fulfilling life, and it just feels better to me than the way we were ranching in the past. . . . We have a vision and a purpose, and I’m just saying that I think ranching there now for us is more fulfilling than it was for my parents’ generation.”

Diane Teeman

Diane Teeman

“One of the most difficult things, I think, to get across to land managers is that you may not see anything here, but this is an important place.”

Diane Teeman is Tribal Archeologist and Culture and Heritage Director of the Burns Paiute Tribe. The Tribe’s name for itself is the Wadatika, a name meaning “eaters of wada seed,” indicating their millennia-long history of food gathering along the shores of what is now known as Malheur Lake, between the Cascade Range in Central Oregon and the Boise valley of Idaho, northward to the Blue Mountains, and southward to northern Nevada. Teeman is a scholar with a graduate degree in anthropology, but she also emphasizes the ways that knowledge comes to her from intergenerational relationships with tribal members whose expertise developed through deep historical connections to the Wadatika’s territories.

Here Teeman describes how her archeological training works side by side with experiential and inherited knowledge of Wadatika lands when she does Section 106 on public lands as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer under the National Historic Preservation Act. Section 106 requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties and to provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) with a reasonable opportunity to comment.

“So we look for items that are on the ground, and we look for items that are — can be up in trees, on trees. We look for rock features. We look for areas where there are a lot of animals because that might indicate other things. Those are the types of things our crew typically will look for. I have a combination of both personal experience of where we have found things in the past, and I won’t say any of them, but the types of land-forms and aspects and things where you usually find material record, those will be in my mind. Like I am going to go look over there specifically, because I know there is going to be something there. And that is just based on twenty-nine — it is my twenty-ninth field season, so my personal experience. But our tribe also does know, places that have been handed down that we always go to and at certain times of year we know what’s there — even if there may be nothing visible on the surface, we know that is a place that is being used. And that is one of the most difficult things, I think, to get across to land managers is that you may not see anything here, but this is an important place.”

Autumn Larkin

Autumn Larkin

“[W]hen I started hunting, I became such a better biologist.”

Autumn Larkin is the Assistant District Wildlife Biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in Harney County, Oregon. Born in Detroit, she grew up longing for the solitude and wide-open grasslands that she would eventually find in southeastern Oregon. As she has grown closer to the community and the lands she serves, she has trained herself to be an expert bow-hunter.

Here Larkins talks about the relationship between her duties at the ODFW, which involve wildlife population management—including the issuing and regulation of permits to hunters, and her off-the-job vocation as a bowhunter on public lands.

“…So I just came off of several days down in the Trout Creeks, which is in our district. It’s at the very southeast corner of Harney County right on the Nevada border. It’s one of my favorite places in the whole world. The first time I was assigned to go do a sage-grouse brood route out there, I just – I couldn’t even believe that that place existed on earth. It was so beautiful. It’s just these great mountains. They are about — you know, they are not super high. It is like 75-, 8,000 feet elevation. The most intact beautiful, wonderful sagebrush steppe community. And it is just beaut- — there is — we have the mule deer and pronghorn and sage-grouse and chukars and quail. And it is just such a special place on earth. And so that is a place that I go hunting. It’s open for traditional-only archery, so you can’t use a compound bow. You can only use a long bow or a recurve, and I hunt with a recurve. And it is very intimate because unlike rifle hunting or even compound, you know, a lot of those people can shoot — and I have rifle hunted too. Those animals don’t even know you are there. You know, it is –if you shoot from very, very long distances. Traditional archery hunting requires you to be very connected not only to the animal that you are hunting but also every blade of grass around you. I mean, you have to — you know, you are taking your shoes off and you are tip-toeing and you’re sneaking and stalking, and I have never felt more at one with nature than I do when I am doing that.”

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