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Done deal

EAGLE POINT — A 352-acre ranch that is home to rare woodpeckers, snakes, flowers, wild salmon and Roosevelt elk will remain undisturbed in perpetuity now that a local conservation group has finally sealed the deal to buy it.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy on Tuesday signed the final papers to take possession of the riverside ranch owned by former Mail Tribune Editor Robert Ruhl's heirs, officially dubbing this two miles of Rogue River frontage upstream of Highway 234 as the Rogue River Preserve.

The official signing came six months after the conservancy's fundraiser surpassed its $3.5 million goal, with the ensuing time consumed by work to finalize grants and extinguish old state mineral rights on the property, SOLC Executive Director Diane Garcia said.

The work included completing an extensive baseline report on the flora and fauna on the property off upper River Road that had to be reviewed and accepted by state and federal agencies before the grants were paid, Garcia said.

"We've been working really diligently since Jan. 1 to get the due diligence done," Garcia said. "It takes a while. From what we've heard from other land conservancies, this was not unique."

Certainly not as unique as the property.

Along with sporting 29 "special status" species such as very rare Lewis' woodpeckers and the very uncommon common California king snake, the ranch is home to the second-largest intact riparian forest along the upper 100 miles of the Rogue, as well as vernal pools that support rare shrimp and flowers.

Such habitats face constant encroachment in the Rogue Valley, so supporters say creating this oasis will provide respite in otherwise harsh environs.

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

The lands near Upper River Road contain chaparral and buckbrush, which 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 poppy plants and surprisingly few invasive Himalayan blackberries.

Much of the ranch is unblemished by non-native vegetation, but even some of the invasive plants that are present are losing ground naturally. Others already have been pulled.

The sale price was $2.4 million, with Ruhl's heirs — the MacArthur family — giving the conservancy a bargain of sorts after it was appraised last year at $3 million. The conservancy set a $3.5 million fundraising goal to cover the purchase, make some light improvements and create an endowment to ensure continued stewardship.

SOLC plans "gentle public access" with regular guided hikes, as well as opening it to Eagle Point High School classes and researchers from places such as Southern Oregon University and the Ashland-based Klamath Bird Observatory.

While the closing time on the property took time, it wasn't too long for Garcia to enjoy. She will retire from the conservancy Friday after 14 years. She will be replaced Monday by Cathy Dombi, the former executive director of the Ashland Film Festival who has a background in outdoor recreation and stewardship.  

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

Patrick Duffy, who chaired a fundraising effort to create the Rogue River Preserve, walks near a vernal pool on the site in 2016. The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy has signed the final papers to take possession of the riverside ranch. [Mail Tribune / File Photo]