ASHLAND — The former head of the Ashland Independent Film Festival is set to become the new executive director of the Ashland-based Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

Cathy Dombi will replace Diane Garcia, who guided Oregon's first regional land trust the past 14 years, most recently shepherding SOLC's pending acquisition of a 352-acre ranch along the upper Rogue River.

Garcia says she will take the summer off and then embark on a part-time career helping small, local, nonprofit organizations develop through grant writing and other consultations.

"I really have a passion for it, and I'd like to help other groups in their next step in their development and to accomplish more," Garcia says.

The change is effective July 2.

Prior to her job as the film festival's executive director, Dombi was executive director of the City Kids Wilderness Project in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She has a strong background in outdoor education and conservation stewardship, Garcia says.

"She's a real strong leader," Garcia says. "I think she's going to be a great executive director."

Dombi was traveling and unavailable for comment, Garcia says.

The nonprofit land conservancy was founded in 1978 as a vehicle to work with private landowners to save and restore natural areas and native habitats on farms, ranches and forestland. The conservancy raises money to purchase conservation easements on private lands to protect their natural attributes.

To date, the conservancy has protected about 10,000 acres of land, and its membership now boasts more than 1,000 households, according to the conservancy.

SOLC's largest coup to date is the purchase of the MacArthur Ranch near Dodge Bridge on the upper Rogue, home of rare woodpeckers, snakes, flowers, wild salmon and Roosevelt elk, which will remain undisturbed in perpetuity.

The conservancy raised $3.5 million for the project, including $2.4 million for the purchase and the rest toward land improvements and a fund for operation of the ranch, which was once owned by former Mail Tribune Editor Robert Ruhl.

The property is a mosaic of the different types of habitat that once dominated the upper Rogue River Basin before cattle pastures, ranchettes and dream homes changed the landscape.

The lands near Upper River Road contain chaparral and buckbrush that help draw black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. Vernal pools dot the landscape in spring and become meadows later in the year sprinkled with natural springs, rare white fairy poppies and surprisingly few invasive Himalayan blackberries.

The property's brightest horticultural gem is its mature oak woodlands that form the second-largest intact riparian forest along 100 miles of the Rogue. The only larger one is the publicly owned and hard-to-reach oak woodlands upstream of the old Gold Ray Dam impoundment.

The deal is scheduled to close at the end of this month, Garcia says.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.