In mid-March, when the coronavirus shuttered much of the Pacific Northwest, Friends canceled all volunteer events through the end of June. The result? The sacrifice of countless hours in the field, although, on a positive note, the birth of a new program: Land Stewards.
“For years, we’d envisioned a program in which Gorge residents and others could, on their own time, help us with restoration work,” says Friends Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator Mika Barrett. “COVID-19 fast-tracked that idea’s implementation.”
Barrett works with Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust, which, based in Hood River, manages volunteer stewardship efforts across the Gorge. In late June, she and her colleagues launched the pilot phase of Land Stewards with three pairs of experienced participants who, during the summer, extracted a variety of invasive plants from two land-trust-owned preserves. The idea: build volunteer capacity, while adhering to social-distancing guidelines. Prior to the pandemic, Friends’ staff would have led such efforts with dozens of people working side by side.
Friends assigned husband-wife team Jane Corboy and John Rogers of Mosier, Oregon, who are both medical physicians and longtime conservationists, to the Mosier Plateau Preserve and Lyle Cherry Orchard. At least once a week, the couple suits up in long sleeve shirts, pants with gaiters, hiking boots, hats, and leather work-gloves for several hours of hiking and removing noxious weeds.
“The work can be exhausting, especially in the heat,” says Dr. Corboy. “And yet, we feel it’s crucial to protect and preserve the things we love.”
Plus, as Dr. Rogers explains, the rewards are immediate. “You see the differences in the pre- and post- photos we take,” he says. “Piles of yellowstar thistle on the ground, and swaths of teaselheads, gone.”
When safe to do so, Friends will continue to cultivate more and more land stewards to join the team.
“In the long run, the challenges we’ve confronted over the past year will actually help us grow our capacity to steward the Gorge,” Barrett says.
So watch out, weeds. Land Stewards has taken root and is starting to grow.