▶️ Crowdsourcing Conservation: Website helps preserve the High Desert, 1 acre at a time

By ALLEN SCHAUFFLER
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

It’s a new conservation concept, the first of its kind.

It involves hiking boots and high tech, the long, dusty trail and carefully programmed drone photography.

It’s a way you can put your name on a specific piece of the High Desert and preserve it.

And if you want to sit tight, you can do it without ever getting up from your keyboard.

Or you can hike into the boondocks as I did with Brent Fenty of the Oregon Desert Land Trust.

“If we can fill in a little bit of the holes it’s good for the rancher here who wants to continue ranching, for people who want to come in to fish or to hike or hunt.
By filling in those holes we can benefit a lot of the users in the region.”
– Brent Fenty, Oregon Desert Land Trust

We drove until the road ran out, somewhere near Summer Lake about a hundred miles southeast of Bend and then set off at a brisk pace (that’s really the only pace Fenty knows) for the 880-acre plot of land his organization has purchased and is now offering, acre by acre, to land conservation enthusiasts.

“This was all a big massive lake until 14,000 years ago. You’re looking across at Winter Rim,” Fenty said. “You’re looking behind you at Diablo Mountain. Those sit 15,200 feet above us.”

This vast, flat, alkali space between desert mountain rims is unforgiving land, the true high desert that stretches south and east from Bend all the way to California, Nevada, Idaho.

Fenty loves every baking-hot square foot.

“For me its the wide-open spaces. If you really stop, slow down and take a look, it’s just such a rich system,” he said. “There is so much going on out here. It’s a neat little spot even on a really hot day.”

As we hike in he points out Meadow Larks, Redwing Blackbirds, Coyotes, Jack Rabbits, huge ant-hills, and more.

For the Oregon Desert land trust this is all worth saving, preserving.

Your name’s on it, forever.
Just don’t drive to it, build anything on it, or set it on fire.

And with a high-tech philanthropic partner equally dedicated to conserving wild spaces, he’s working on a new concept for involving the public and filling in holes in the map, buying up the scattered plots of land not owned by the Federal Government, to fill in the blanks spaces that are still vulnerable to development.

“If we can fill in a little bit of the holes it’s good for the rancher here who wants to continue ranching, for people who want to come in to fish or to hike or hunt,” he said. “By filling in those holes we can benefit a lot of the users in the region.”

The Desert Land Trust partners with an all-volunteer group called “conserve.dot org”.

Together they’re pioneering a new way of linking individual donors with the land. You could call it call it “crowd-sourcing conservation.”

Haley Mellin is the co-founder.

“With conserve.org you see the acre. You get the latitude and longitude of the location so you can hike there, like you did. It’s real and it’s permanent.”

Here’s how it works. Go to the Conserve.org website. If you’re interested in the area where we’re hiking you would click “Mt. Diablo”.

Pick an acre and you can spin the camera for a 360-degree view. And if you like what you see, just point, click, pay and conserve.


Your donation, tripled by matching funds from other organizations, will be $46. Maybe the cost of lunch for two; Hold the dessert and designer cocktails..

Mellin says it’s important to make the land on the screen tangible, the online connection a “real” experience.

“It’s real and it’s permanent.” – Haley Mellin, conserve.org

“It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s simple. It’s direct,” she said. “It’s exceptionally transparent and that was very important to me, that what you see is what you get.”

What you “get” is a place you can hike to and visit, even camp on if you want some peace and quiet in the greasewood scrub somewhere north of Paisley. Your name’s on it, forever. Just don’t drive to it, build anything on it, or set it on fire.

New drone technology makes the process work.

Earlier efforts required volunteers to walk every acre in a parcel and shoot selfie-stick pictures at every stop.

Now, Fenty can launch a drone that is pre-programmed to fly to the center of an acre, shoot high-resolution, 360 degree pictures, then automatically move on to the next acre in the grid. Repeat, repeat, repeat and pretty soon you have images of every one of the 880 acres viewable on the screen. Without all that walking.

The programming was developed by a Colorado company, Red Mountain Scientific.

They donated their time and expertise because they liked the project.

The whole concept is still very much in the “Beta” testing phase. Fenty, Mellin, and all those involved hope the process can be simplified, scaled up and used to conserve other areas in Oregon and beyond. Conserve.org is already “selling” the naming rights to bits of land in a Guatemalan cloud forest.

So far the point-and-click method is working.

Most of the 880-acres in the Diablo Mountain tract we hiked have been conserved by individuals, many of them purchased as gifts for friends and loved ones.

At $46 an acre, a pretty good bargain for those who love the wide-open spaces of the Oregon Desert like Brent Fenty does.

“Often our bias is towards the wet, forested side of the state,” he said. “But this, these kinds of landscapes represent over half of our state and they’re some of the largest roadless intact areas that we have.”

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