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The Oregon Master Naturalist Program, an OSU Extension Forestry and Natural Resources program, gives participants the opportunity to increase and improve environmental stewardship in Oregon.

An enthusiastic coalition of Oregonians from around the state gathered the first week of June at the Dixie Meadow Company, a ranch owned by John and Lynne Breese.

This small group of individuals are part of a statewide program, sponsored by Oregon State University, which was established in 2009. The Oregon Master Naturalist Program, an OSU Extension Forestry and Natural Resources program, seeks to increase science and environmental literacy of all Oregonians, and increase and improve environmental stewardship in Oregon.

The recent field day that took place on the Breese's ranch provided the participants an opportunity to "hike" around the ranch, peer into the past, and relate the experience to what the current owners see and do today.

"We believe that if we know more about the way the land was, we will better manage Dixie Meadow Company (DMC), our ranch of timber and rangelands," expressed John Breese.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LYYNE AND JOHN BREESE - From left, John Breese at easel; Tim Deboodt, second from left, gives a presentation about the realtionshiop of junipers, water, and the land.History of the Breese Ranch

The 1862 Homestead Act was created to relieve the labor pressure in the cities. People filed for a piece of land — usually 160 acres. They had to "prove up" on their homestead by living on and cultivating the land before receiving the homestead patent that signaled ownership. In 1888, John Breese's great-grandparents homesteaded a valley they called Gravy Gulch. Food was scarce, but they made gravy from home-grown wheat and milk from the family cow.

"Our ranch name comes from Dixie Meadow, the large upland meadow above Gravy Gulch. All grazing animals (cows, deer, elk, antelope) like Dixie Meadow," added John.

There are several different ecosystem sites on the ranch, all of which trace historic family names. On June 1, the group focused on Mamie's Cabin, Stump Puller Pasture, and a 1920s sawmill site. Participants were treated to history and ecology of the land.

The Oregon Master Naturalist Program has several components that make up the diverse program. Utilizing engaging online and field courses, and the scenic places in which the program takes place, the program strives to foster an emotional connection between participants and place. Through certified Oregon Master Naturalists, the program builds volunteer capacity in programs, organizations, and agencies throughout Oregon. Educated and trained volunteers have a lasting impact on the communities in which they serve. As of the beginning of 2021, 65,000 hours of volunteer service have been reported and contributed to over 200 different programs and projects.

The Dixie Meadow project was led and directed by Tim Deboodt, a retired OSU Extension agent who specialized in rangeland management. He, along with John Buckhouse, is one of the instructors for the Master Naturalist program. Deboodt now works as Crook County Natural Resources policy coordinator. Others who led the program included Jason O'Brien, statewide coordinator for the Master Naturalist Program, and John and Lynne Breese.

The program enhances a sense of place and increases knowledge about and connection to the natural environment for all Oregonians. The program provides transformative, science-based, experiential learning in outdoor settings, and encourages service that protects and supports ecosystems and community well-being in Oregon. The Oregon Master Naturalist Program studies the vast and diverse ecosystems of Oregon, with the recent study of the Breese Ranch one example of many that are held throughout the year. These landscapes shape the way participants see and experience Oregon as naturalists.

APHOTO COURTESY OF LYNNE AND JOHN BREESE - Forester, Thomas Stokel, does a presentation to the group about forestry management breakdown of the Oregon Master Naturalist Program

Other aspects of becoming an Oregon Master Naturalist include six-to-eight-day field classes, which are usually held over several weekends or several months. It also includes40-60 hours of contact time. Volunteer service is a large part of the service time, requiring 40 hours, with one full calendar year to complete coursework.

Types of volunteer service include presenting educational or interpretive programs at a city, county, or federal park; leading nature hikes or assisting a visitor guide in a natural area; and education and outreach. Community service is also a good way for scientists-at-heart, which may include collecting data for a local group or a natural database. Examples may include wildlife and plant surveys, water quality monitoring, phenology, and precipitation.

For those who like to do hands-on projects, volunteer opportunities abound for maintaining natural areas, including removal of invasive species and restoring native vegetation. Assisting in maintaining trails or public recreation areas is always in high demand.

O'Brien is instrumental in the day-to-day operation of the Oregon Master Naturalist Program and is in charge of developing partnerships to support and expand the program around the state. He developed and continues to teach the online course for the program as well.

"We divided our training portion or curriculum portion into two components, an online course, which encompasses the entire state of Oregon and it's natural resource base," elaborated O'Brien.

He added that it includes a broader view of Oregon's regional differences, from the coast to the high desert. It incorporates geology, watersheds, basic ecology and wildlife management practices, and the management of forests and rangelands.

"That is kind of catch-all and gives everyone a broad introduction to the state of Oregon from a natural resources and natural history perspective," he said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LYNNE AND JOHN BREESE - Master Naturalist class particpants at the Breese Ranch visit a restoration site on an ephemeral (Occasional) stream. He went on to say that the other set of classes include the field component, which is what the group did on the Breese Ranch.

"That, combined, becomes the training that the Master Naturalist gets for OSU Extension," O'Brien concluded.

Other coordinators for the program include Alicia Phillips, North Willamette Valley; Ann Harris, Open Campus coordinator and Columbia Gorge, Hood River, and Wasco County coordinator; Jamie Doye, OSU Sea Grant Extension Agent for Coos, and Curry counties; and Rachel Werling, Land Stewards Program Coordinator, Forestry and Natural Resources Extension for Jackson County.

Reflections

John and Lynne Breese noted that the field day at their ranch went as well as possible.

"It was a positive day, a perfect day with sunshine and not a lot of wind, and we got to almost all of the spots that we had planned," said John.

"The people were really attentive; they were taking notes like crazy, and they asked really good questions, added Lynne.

She added that even the bus driver was involved and attentive.

John indicated that they visited a riparian area, and were able to give some ranch history, and the relationship of ranches, cattle, and the land. The next stop was the area where the Breeses had not removed junipers, and Tim Deboodt gave a talk about the relationship of junipers, water, and the land. At the old sawmill site, Foresters Thomas Stokel and Ariel Cohan gave a talk about forestry, and the relationship of the trees, and fire in relationship to the forest and land. The final talk, given by geologist Carrie Gordon, took place near a caldera, and some history of how a caldera affects the soil over time, including the Ochoco Mountains.

"One of the real highlights at the end of the day, was one of the ladies from Portland came up to me and said, "I think I understand now about this urban/rural divide. I never had a clue how much work you had to do to work on the ranch to get us food. I would really like to bring some of my friends from Porland over so they can understand what this divide is all about," noted Lynne.


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