Before climbing off her horse, Shreejita Basu, WFI fellow from India, flashed a big grin and unwound one of those crowd pleasing elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist-wrist waves worthy of any Rodeo Princess in America. After several long, hot days of travel, site visits, and tours, Shreejita and seven colleagues in the WFI international fellowship program stood with the horses at the corral and laughed and reminisced with local hosts Rex and Catherine Christensen of the MC Ranch.
“We learned so much! Thank you Rex and Cathy!” they cheered, followed by hugs all around.
For the past 12 years, the award winning MC Ranch, located in Oregon’s Blue Mountains southwest of LaGrande. The ranch hosted an intensive multi-day field forestry practicum for the WFI fellows to learn about Eastside forestry issues and options for private landowners to actively manage dry forest landscapes to meet diverse economic, social, and environmental objectives. The original MC Ranch forestry project and the field camp for WFI fellows was started by Harry Merlo, retired CEO of Louisiana Pacific. Merlo passed away in 2016.
More than two dozen local land owners, managers, loggers, mill operators, biologists, fire fighters and guests met with the WFI fellows June 19-23 to cover a wide range of topics such as buying and selling timber in Eastern Oregon, reforestation, forest practice laws, stream restoration and habitat enhancement, climate change, insects and disease, forest fuels reduction, firefighting, cattle ranching, hunting, fishing, tourism, and opportunities for biomass.
Fellows also toured the Integrated Biomass Campus and Enterprise High School biomass boiler in Wallowa County. “It is amazing how this all works” observed Oscar Hernandez, WFI fellow from Guatemala. “It is really all about the community and the local people. You can’t do this level work without good people all along the forest value chain.”
Midweek, the fellows traveled to Eastern Oregon University to deliver a “Forests Around the World” seminar for the community and attend a reception hosted by EOU President Tom Insko. The fellows also inspected forestry projects on the Umatilla National Forest and met with multi-generational small woodland owners near Mount Emily. Evenings were spent on the banks of the Grande Ronde River swapping stories about the day, travel, and forestry projects around the globe.
WFI fellow from Scotland, Hebe Caras, observed “Seeing forestry as a working landscape on the dry side of Oregon was fascinating, and with many different challenges from western Oregon. I saw the huge challenges of balancing the need for fuel load reduction, tree regeneration / planting, maintaining elk populations as hunting quarry, all within the context of attempting to deliver ecological integrity across a landscape. I had some great discussions about how we did things in Scotland, where we have equally complex but different issues to overcome. I really valued the honest exchange of viewpoints and ideas; that was the best part of the trip, plus of course getting to ride a horse Western style.”
MC Ranch Manager Rex Christensen and his team – Cathy, Kyle, Heather and Blair — were thoughtful and generous hosts. “Their love of the land, record of stewardship at the ranch, and passion to share Harry’s vision and legacy of leadership with guests from all over the world is appreciated beyond words,” said Sara Wu, Acting Director of the World Forestry Center. “The MC Ranch trip is central to the success of the WFI fellowship. We are grateful to Flo Newton Merlo and the Merlo Foundation for supporting this high impact learning experience.”
Many thanks to WFC board member Nils Christoffersen and his crew at Wallowa Resources, Tom Insko and his staff at EOU, Jamie Knight of the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the many local experts who volunteered their time and expertise make the 2017 MC Ranch forestry field camp one of the best ever.