The dream of many who move to Oregon is a house in the country. Yet not all anticipate how very different rural living is from cities and even suburbs.
"A lot of people have been moving into this area who don't have experience living rurally," says Rhianna Simes, an instructor at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center on Hanley Road. "We realized that small acreage landowners needed more information, particularly about fire prevention, managing small wood lots and pastures, weed management and how to balance sustainability with a rural lifestyle."
So last fall, Oregon State University Extension started a 10-week Jackson County Master Land Steward program. Thirty local landowners who completed the course are currently doing community service, sharing what they learned with other interested landowners in the community.
Unlike OSU's Master Gardener program, this course was designed specifically for rural landowners with properties ranging from one acre to almost 400. About half the class moved to this area within the past five years while the other half were longtime residents.
Jack Duggan lives on 372 acres originally bought by his great-grandparents in the 1870s. Once working gold claims, the land is now part of a family trust created on behalf of Duggan and his siblings. Duggan grew up visiting his grandparents on their land during vacations, and after a stint in Vietnam, he moved into one of the cabins on the property. Duggan used his forestry degree to manage the property's timber, but he still thought the class might teach him a few things.
"I think this class is as valuable to the community as it is to the individuals," Duggan says. "I got much more out of it than I anticipated. I learned about the cohesiveness of looking at a piece of land as a whole picture, the integration of different disciplines."
Combining lectures by various professionals with field trips, the class studied weather and microclimates, composting, manure management, improving water and soil quality, local ecology, fire-hazard reduction, dealing with noxious weeds, tree care, wildlife management and sustainable management practices.
"The goal was to empower landowners to know what to do with their land," says Simes, who coordinated the class. "When people have knowledge, they are empowered to make changes for the better. Educating people out of the gate can prevent problems."
Myrna Dubin moved to Southern Oregon from Los Angeles two years ago. After living in the city most of her life, she suddenly found herself with 13 acres to manage. She thought the Master Land Steward class would help.
"I always wanted to live on a farm," Dubin laughs, "so in my 70s, I decided it was time to do it. I have three acres of pasture, eight acres of woodland. But what do I do with it? I didn't know how to best use my place."
Dubin learned enough to feel more confident in managing her land. She also was impressed with the connections she made with other students and the professional lecturers from the Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, soil and water conservation agencies and others. Each student's final project was to prepare and present a management plan for their property. Dubin says other students' presentations were helpful in guiding her own land use.
Part of the program involves a commitment to 30 hours of community service. Duggan is using his hours to prepare a land-management plan for Jacksonville Woodlands. Others are working on fire-education teams, recycling projects, putting together a forage demonstration plot for OSU's small farm program, creating a fire-resistant plant demonstration garden for ODF, as well as neighborhood organizing and workshops.
Community involvement is the key to sustainable land management, according to Simes.
"We want to avoid random acts of conservation that aren't very effective," Simes says. "If you eradicate star thistle on your property but your neighbor ignores it, you will soon have it back. This way we can create networks of neighborhood groups addressing similar issues."
For more information about the class, contact Simes at Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point, or phone 541-776-7371.
Freelance writer A. Paradiso completed the first Jackson County Master Land Steward Program at OSU Extension.