Oregon’s South Coast sweeps 120 miles from the Coquille River to the northern border of California, encompassing 10 watersheds and 1.7 million acres of land.
On the 4th generation Wahl Ranch, near Langlois sheep roam, birds soar and the ocean waves cast up on the bluffs. For more than 140 years the Wahl family has stewarded the land when their ancestors from Scotland began raising sheep in 1874.
With intention and care the ranch has evolved its land management principles that keep stewardship long and production strong.
The ranch is located at the mouth of the Elk River, one of the last remaining places likely to stay cold enough in the face of climate change to support fish populations long into the future, largely due to the still intact old-growth forests. It also happens to be a perfect habitat for salmon migration. Knowing the importance of their location, the family has been careful to protect stream, riparian and wetland habitats that provide homes to native fish and wildlife.
Having planted more than five miles of soil erosion buffers, Wahl Ranch knew the importance of the work they were doing and wanted to do more.
In partnership with the Wild Rivers Land Trust, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the ranch is now home to its very own “fish hotel” — A man-made, off-channel habitat area where two species of juvenile salmon can live before heading out on the channel to the Pacific Ocean.
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The digging of this hotel created a bounty of rich, hearty soil to utilize on the ranch’s fields to enrich the land — A perfect marriage of the benefit between agriculture and conservation.
In addition to the fish hotel, Wahl Ranch utilizes mob grazing techniques to keep the land healthy and stave off the invasive thorny evergreen gorse shrub that has encroached upon many ranches in the South Coast area.
With 25 percent of the ranch being a livestock exclusion zone, it creates an opportunity to make the best use of the land. Production increased and soil and pasture management advanced to improve conditions for soil micro-organisms, increase soil organic material, carbon sequestration and forage productions.
Collaborations such as these not only create benefits for the landowners like increased production, more efficient land management practices, and usage efficiencies, they also create spaces for ever-increasing fragile ecosystems to thrive and grow. This harmonious balance keeps the land ripe for stewardship and production for generations to come.
Region-wide, the Wild Rivers Land Trust plays an important role by helping ranchers throughout this community permanently preserve their land base and the ranches, farms, and habitat it supports. This remote landscape is known as the “Dark Coast” because sailors observed that there are few if any house lights along this stretch of coastline. As the beauty of this region is being discovered, and as local ranchers age and sell or bequeath their land to the next generation, this rich and productive landscape is coming under threat of development.
The Wild Rivers Land Trust works with willing landowners to buy or accept donations of their development rights on the property. Through these ‘working lands easements,” the landowner receives cash or a charitable tax deduction, the land becomes cheaper for a rancher to afford, and it is preserved forever as ranchland, habitat, and open space. This tool makes permanent the conservation efforts of ranchers, and enables the land to be stewarded for agriculture and habitat for generations to come.