Amid a Changing Climate, OCF’s Focus on Resilience for People and Place Persists
Deep in the dense, dry, mixed conifer forests of southwestern Oregon that are among the highest-risk for mega-fires, hard-hatted crews of landscape artists are transforming the land toward health and resilience, acre by slow acre. Instead of paintbrushes, the crews from Lomakatsi Restoration Project carry chainsaws and drip torches. They work methodically across the steep slopes, thinning trees to reduce the risk of destructive mega-fires and carefully reintroducing healthy fire.
As members of an ecological restoration workforce that Lomakatsi has helped to grow, these artists are making the Rogue Basin more resilient to climate change — not only the land, but the people and economies, too.
Their difficult, discerning work is helping to ensure that forests and watersheds from Brookings to Butte Falls can provide the region with clean air and water and support a diverse range of wildlife, as Oregon’s climate grows warmer and drier. As they shore up vital natural spaces that have sustained people with food, cultural resources, recreation and solace since humans first walked the land, they also are reducing the threat that mega-fires pose to Southwest Oregon families, businesses, and communities.
Lomakatsi, an Ashland-based nonprofit that receives grant funding from Oregon Community Foundation, succeeds by fostering collaboration among partners with often conflicting goals. Together they have restored 13,000 forested acres around Ashland and in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, among other landscape-scale projects in Oregon and California.
“How can we meet in the radical center to do good things for the land and the economies and the communities?” asks executive director Marko Bey. “That’s the work Lomakatsi does.”
A historical focus, evolving with Oregon
For 50 years, OCF has helped donors to find and support nonprofits that work to build vibrant, resilient communities. Today, that focus on resilience persists and evolves. As Oregonians experience mega-fires and smoke-choked skies, intense drought, and extreme temperatures — and their impacts on our lives, land and economies — we recognize more than ever that resilient communities depend on a healthy environment.
OCF donors support a diverse range of nonprofits, from Lomakatsi in Ashland to Wallowa Resources in Enterprise, that strive at once to increase community resilience, create jobs and opportunity, and preserve the natural and wild places that make Oregon special.
“That focus on resilience, for people and place, can bring us more of what we all strive for,” says Carlos Garcia, OCF senior program officer for environment and donor impact. “Clean air and water, economic opportunity, quality of life, habitat for fish and wildlife, and meaningful connections with each other.”
A sampling of Oregon nonprofits that receive OCF support for resilience-building work:
- In Eastern Oregon, Wallowa Resources works with rural communities to create strong economies and healthy landscapes through land stewardship, education, and job creation. One example of this stewardship economy — shaped by the need and responsibility to manage for the sustainability of land and communities — is a project with a local rancher to restore a stretch of the Wallowa River that created local employment for contractors, improved habitat for steelhead and wildlife, and learning opportunities for students.
- On the North Coast, the Arch Cape Forest is now community-owned and protects clean, safe drinking water for Arch Cape residents, vital habitat for fish and wildlife, and sustainable forestry. North Coast Land Conservancy, Sustainable Northwest, Arch Cape Domestic Water Supply District, and many partners and residents worked to acquire these forested lands that along with the Rainforest Reserve, Oswald West State Park, and Cape Falcon Marine Reserve represent a place of great cultural, scenic, habitat, and economic value. “Conservation is an important way to take action on climate resilience,” Garcia says.
- OCF’s Climate Change & Healthy Habitats (CC&HH) Collective Giving Group — about 40 donors who learn and give together — has supported a range of organizations including Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which addresses climate impacts on Tribal communities and promotes Tribal leadership in climate resilience. CC&HH also supports groups focused on environmental justice, recognizing that the communities likely to be most affected by climate change are leading the way in responding to its challenges.
- CC&HH has also supported Sustainable Northwest, which applies entrepreneurial solutions to natural resource challenges to keep lands healthy and support rural economies, with a focus on forests and farms, clean energy, green markets, and water. Recently, Sustainable Northwest embarked on a Climate Smart Forestry initiative to bring together Tribal, small family forest, and nonprofit wood producers with scientists and the construction industry to manage and restore tens of thousands of acres to create and scale a climate-smart wood economy and marketplace.
Now, in OCF’s 50th anniversary year, veteran staff and new leaders including President and CEO Lisa Mensah, appointed in September 2022, and Andrea Durbin, who became Director of Initiatives and Strategic Partnerships in January, are inviting new voices and established donors to consider how OCF can best help communities thrive over the next half-century.
Donors include Kate and Max Gessert, who through OCF have found out about more groups they want to support for a more resilient Oregon.
“We want to support resilience in nature and also in human communities in our beloved state,” Kate says. “This has become deeply personal in the past year, because our daughter and her partner and our small grandchildren now live in Oregon, too.”
Restoring ecosystems, expanding economic opportunity
Lomakatsi is just one example of OCF-backed nonprofits that work toward resilience for people and place. Their team of foresters, wildland and prescribed fire professionals, fire ecologists, cultural resource experts, workforce trainers and educators help power collaborative projects throughout Oregon. While it restores forests and watersheds, Lomakatsi also expands economic opportunity, employing 50 people on its in-house crews. Its workforce swells to 150 during busy seasons, including contractors in communities where Lomakatsi works.
Some crew members are graduates of multiple Lomakatsi programs that provide job skills and certifications and introduce teens and adults to career paths in forestry, wildland fire management, habitat restoration, and natural resources. Gray Family Foundation, a supporting organization of OCF, has made a multi-year commitment to Lomakatsi's Tribal Youth Ecological Forestry Training Program, which provides paid, hands-on learning experiences for young people ages 18 to 26 in the Chiloquin/Klamath Falls area.
Investment in and collaboration with Tribal crew workers and Tribal-led organizations is integral to Lomakatsi’s approach.
“One of the reasons we partner with Tribes and we have Tribal representation within our organization is that adaptive management is part of indigenous culture. Native Americans have a long-term history of managing these natural resources with integrity toward the landscape and the people. When we think about climate resilience, we need to be investing in these Tribal communities that are applying fire and caring for these landscapes,” Bey says.
Ecological restoration generates revenue from the sale of by-product logs recovered during thinning operations, but the earnings don’t come close to covering the costs. That makes government funding essential. Lomakatsi is benefitting from “a really generous moment,” Bey says, with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 providing billions of dollars for clean energy and climate solutions, on top of State of Oregon funding for conservation and habitat work. Yet philanthropic support also remains critical, especially to the people and planning necessary to set restoration work in motion.
“We’ve been very fortunate with funding — through OCF, other foundations, and private individuals — for our development team as they conceptualize ideas and landscape areas and engage with partners,” Bey says. “That operational support and investment from philanthropy, so our team can plan and envision and collaborate, has been a big part of our success.”
As OCF celebrates five decades of giving to create stronger communities, the foundation’s approach to resilience evolves with the state — and with nonprofits in every region that are helping to ensure Oregon’s people and places can thrive for years to come.
Learn about OCF’s land and nature work to move forward solutions that create more resilient communities. To support OCF’s investments in this area, please get in touch with your donor relations officer.