Rural Partnerships Initiative
For many Oregonians, rural Oregon is a mostly pretty place they travel through on their way to somewhere else. Portlanders heading southeast to Bend/Redmond for a ski weekend, folks from Eugene heading northwest for the annual Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest, and birders from the Ashland/Medford area heading east to Malheur Wildlife Refuge for the spring songbird migration pass through farm fields, rangelands, privately owned timber lands and rural communities.
We all enjoy the scenery, but rural Oregon is much more than scenery to the twenty percent plus of Oregonians who live and work there, scattered in small communities across the landscape. Of the 354 communities in Oregon, only 55 have populations over 10,000 and only seven have populations over 100,000. The challenges facing small rural communities are many, and often they are very different from the challenges larger towns and cities face. Working lands owners and operators often live far outside the boundary of their nearest community—their challenges are even more complex.
OEC has been reaching out, listening to and working with rural landowners and communities for over 18 years. In 2001 we spent a year traveling to farms and ranches across Oregon to hear what agricultural community had to say. That led to the launch of our Sustainable Food and Farms Initiative. In 2007, we launched a Carbon Neutral Initiative for Wineries & Vineyards. We worked with cranberry growers on the southern coast in 2008-2010 to help increase market access for their product based on documented sustainable practices that reduced water pollution. In 2011 we worked with nursery owners to develop a Climate Friendly Nurseries program that verified practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from nursery operations. We sat on agency technical committees related to water pollution from nitrates, pesticides and soil erosion, and we helped secure funding for the Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships program, a voluntary program for reducing pesticides in surface water.
In 2018 we launched our Rural Partnerships Initiative, focused on building relationships with rural communities and rural lands managers. We listen to learn what challenges rural communities and land managers face, what kinds of support and assistance they want. We seek out local/regional projects that are underway to address water issues, climate change or toxics in the environment, and where appropriate we seek to partner with those efforts by bringing OEC’s expertise in policy, regulation and legislation to support those on-the-ground efforts.