In 1985 a group of people from Cannon Beach, Astoria, and points between—all veterans of the environmental battles of the 1970s and early ’80s—assembled to consider a new way to approach conservation on the Oregon Coast.
The Seattle-based Trust for Public Lands was encouraging the development of local land trusts in the Pacific Northwest, not unlike The Nature Conservancy but with a more narrow geographic focus. It was to be a more cooperative approach, working with willing landowners to conserve key pieces of habitat rather than filing lawsuit after lawsuit prompted by the decline of one endangered species or another.
By 1986 North Coast Land Conservancy had an eight-member board of directors. Vice President Linda Newberry, then an artist in Cannon Beach, drew NCLC’s original logo featuring a marsh wren. By 1987 NCLC had achieved status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Our First Project
NCLC’s first significant project was facilitation of a land swap proposed by Doug Ray, then chair of NCLC’s Lands Committee. In spring 1991 Doug learned that a 15-acre parcel of private timberland adjacent to Saddle Mountain State Park—a park known for its rare plant species and extremely high biodiversity—was slated for logging in a matter of weeks. “We could hear the chainsaws; they were literally coming over the hill,” Neal Maine recalls. The tract, part of the Fox Creek watershed, functioned as a buffer to help protect the last remaining stand of old-growth Douglas fir in Clatsop County. NCLC proposed that Oregon State Parks approach the land owner, Cavenham Forest Industries, about swapping the Fox Creek forest for land in another part of the park. By September, an agreement was reached and the transfer was completed.
Along the way, NCLC volunteers discovered that the watershed was home to at least two endangered species—marbled murrelets and Cope’s salamanders—but they kept that information to themselves. “To me,” Neal says, “it was incredibly significant that we were heading down the pathway to a new way of doing conservation”—working with willing parties to protect habitat for its own sake and for the benefit of all the plants and animals living in a place rather than filing lawsuits to hold parties hostage to the Endangered Species Act.
“Fox Creek was when the board explored and started to formulate the philosophy and the mechanics of working with what historically would have been adversaries, in this case a timber company, and other entities such as state parks,” Neal says. “We cut our teeth on that project. How do you sit down at the table with a timber company and carry on dialogue that doesn’t include threats of lawsuits but is instead a facilitation? We figured it out.”
Leading Edge Conservation
The proposal NCLC developed for Fox Creek was one of the first biodiversity-based conservation proposals that state and federal agencies involved in the negotiations had ever seen, according to Doug Ray. “It was leading-edge conservation based on ecological dynamics: one of the first such proposals that was intentionally and strategically not focused on a single-critter crisis but focused on protecting the integrity of the forest for everything, not just rare or listed species. That was a big deal back then.”
Fox Creek was just the first of two win-win transactions NCLC completed in 1991. That year the Seaside School District and Seaside Kids Inc. was seeking to build a baseball field along Wahanna Road, but they had run into one of the challenges of building in low-lying areas of Seaside: the need to mitigate for wetlands. NCLC was able to help make the project happen in a way that balanced the needs of the community’s children with the needs of the natural landscape by conserving 5.74-acre Wahanna Marsh, NCLC’s first land acquisition.
Shortly thereafter a proposed condominium development plunged Seaside’s Neawanna Point, on the Necanicum Estuary, into controversy. North Coast Land Conservancy spent several years exploring options that would allow for key parts of this sensitive ecosystem to be preserved. Ultimately the landowners decided the best use of the property was to advance their philanthropic goals, and the site was placed under NCLC’s stewardship in 1998. Neawanna Point still ranks as one of the most challenging projects that NCLC has ever worked on—one that validated the land trust’s belief in patience, a willingness to listen to all sides of an issue, and an effort to seek common ground and achieve conservation goals for the North Coast and its communities.
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