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"Our vision for Woodpecker Ridge is not to have it just be a wild refuge," says landowner Max Gessert, who recently worked with his wife Kate to donate a conservation easement to the McKenzie River Trust. "We also want the forest to be a place where humans can be part of the land."
As you walk through the forest and farmland protected in the Woodpecker Ridge Conservation Easement near Crow, mature conifer trees tower above while your feet squish into the rich floodplain of Trout Creek. Passing tall oak groves, you reach a small wetland. A flock of sheep grazes in the farm fields. It’s easy to see why Kate and Max Gessert wanted to protect this special place.
 
Kate, an English as a Second Language teacher at Lane Community College, and Max, an artist and writer, donated a 91-acre conservation easement to the McKenzie River Trust (MRT) in May. Grant funds from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act helped pay for some of the transaction expenses.
 
After living on 20 acres of the property for a few years, the Gesserts learned that the second-growth forest next door was owned by a timber company and about to be cut, so they bought it. “We first talked with the McKenzie River Trust about an easement about 10 years ago,” says Max. “We wanted to protect the land, but there were some staff changes and it was easy to put off. Many years went by. Then I was diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly, all kinds of issues became foregrounded. We began thinking about lots of things we had considered before that hadn’t been finished.”
 
Red-legged frogs, pileated woodpeckers, yellow-breasted chat and other sensitive fish and wildlife species are likely to benefit from the land’s protection. In keeping with the Gesserts’ Forest Stewardship Certification of the land, the easement allows for limited, sustainable forest harvest.
 
Nicole Nielsen-Pincus, MRT’s Willamette Program Manager, emphasizes that customized legal agreements can meet landowner needs while protecting critical habitat. “In working with Kate and Max to develop this easement, I learned how much this forest means to them,” says Nicole. “Conservation easements are as unique as the landscapes they protect, and we’re grateful that future wildlife and people will coexist on Woodpecker Ridge and be protected.”
 
“There are many ways we all try to take care of the world,” says Kate. “But it’s hard to know which ones will work. This seemed like something effective we could do.”