Life for the endangered Gentner's fritillary lily just got a bit easier.

Life for the endangered Gentner's fritillary lily just got a bit easier.

Last month, six acres of undeveloped woodlands within the Jacksonville city limits received permanent protection through a conservation easement brokered by the city of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Woodlands Association and the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

"The surrounding neighborhood goes back to the 1870s — it preserves something that was there when Jacksonville was founded," says Larry Smith, executive director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association.

The property, known as "The Grove," was first purchased by Jacksonville's most prominent 19th-century banker, C.C. Beekman. By the dawn of the 20th century, Beekman was allowing the indigent and homeless to camp at The Grove for as long as they needed.

"Old-timers told me that during the Depression, there were people camped all over here because there was water, space, firewood "… people would survive by finding little gold nuggets in the nearby streams and come to the markets and sell them," says Smith.

Today, the headwaters of Daisy Creek still originate in The Grove, though the flow is less than in generations past. Madrone, Douglas fir, and both white and black oak dot the gently sloping hillside. Most trees here are younger than 60 years old. If you allow your imagination to rewind, you can almost see that open, Depression-era hillside with scattered oak and madrone towering over rough-cut tent platforms, and hear the exuberant shouts of small children at play.

This low-elevation, gently sloping, oak-madrone woodland is rare in locally undeveloped land. It offers ideal habitat for the endangered Gentner's fritillary, provided the natural fire regime is maintained, according to Tom Atzet, retired U.S. Forest Service ecologist and board member of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

"Lilies, in general, have a strategy of being underground, being safe during the summer, and so they're better off if they do have a little fire disturbance because it keeps the competition away," Atzet says.

To help minimize that competition, volunteers from Jacksonville Woodlands Association have been cutting brush and thinning out the smaller trees — potential ladder fuels for big fires — so that if a fire should burn here, it will burn lightly.

"Clearing alone won't do it. Mechanical disturbance is different from thermal disturbance. The nutrient cycling (in the soil) is a lot different. What they've found with lilies in California is that the ash compounds that leach into the soil stimulate the roots. Without fire in the long run, I don't know if fritillaria (here in the Grove) will survive," Atzet adds.

To give visitors a better glimpse of both the common and endangered species of fritillary, Smith and his volunteers have built a trail system in The Grove's six acres, complete with interpretive signs that chronicle the ecology and history of this parcel.

"Fritillaria tends to grow where there's just a little disturbance, often just a few feet off a trail," Smith explains.

These new trails fit into the landscape in an additional context.

"It connects trails in the Beekman Woods with those in the Britt Woodlands. We now have an extended, connected trail system within the city limits in Jacksonville," Smith says.

The new conservation easement ensures that trails are about the only development that will occur in The Grove, by the current owner — the city of Jacksonville — or any future owner.

"The city can manage for forestry and fire. Academic studies on fritillaria are allowed, as are trails, signage and bridges and benches to support the trails. These are the same restrictions on all seven properties covered by our easements (in Jacksonville)," says Diane Garcia, executive director of Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

According to Garcia, the easement protects The Grove not only from new construction, but from mining and other commercial uses, as well. Bicycles and motorized vehicles also are prohibited.

The roller-coaster ride for The Grove's fritillaria gentnerii may be over, at least for the present. The future of this fire-dependent species may lie in land management.

"If someone were to do a burn here, like a light broadcast burn, not the intense heat of pile burning or catastrophic wildfire, then I think fritillaria would be fine," says Atzet.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at