Answering the call

With great excitement, the Blue Mountain Land Trust opened a second office in John Day, Oregon in early July. This expansion doubles the size of our service area and adds Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam and Morrow counties in Oregon to the communities we serve. 

Expansion into the John Day River Basin was the result of two years of work with the key natural resources agencies that serve that area. After much discussion, we were invited to expand our operations there by local representatives of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a number of County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. These agencies believe that many landowners in those four counties will benefit substantially from the services of our land trust.

The John Day River Basin is one of the most scenic and environmentally significant regions in the country. The third longest undammed river in the continental United States, the John Day River flows 280 miles from the Strawberry Mountains to the Columbia River. The John Day provides pristine habitat for wild steelhead, Chinook salmon, westslope cutthroat, and interior redband. The river basin hosts the last remaining wild populations of Chinook salmon and summer steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin. 

Farms and ranches form the economic backbone of the John Day River Basin. Over half of the basin’s terrain is agricultural land and of that, 60% is devoted to cattle production. With 11,000 people and 70,000 head of cattle in the region, cattle outnumber people 7 to 1.

The conversion of large agricultural acreages to non-farm uses and a huge generational transfer of land ownerships are underway in the John Day. These changes threaten the economic future of these working lands, and the integrity of fish and wildlife habitat they host. 

Conversion of ag land can cause reduced land productivity, degraded water quality and quantity, overrun rangelands with invasive weeds, and catastrophic wildfires. 

A major goal of BMLT’s work there will be to ensure that farms and ranches remain economically and environmentally viable. Conservation easements - alone or in combination with fish and wildlife habitat restoration - can greatly enhance the agricultural sustainability of these lands.  

Amanda “Marti” Martino will lead our work in this area as the John Day office’s conservation manager. A Michigan native, Marti is a 2016 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law and holds two bachelor’s degrees from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. 

Marti will work closely with a John Day area advisory council composed of many of the partners who invited us to the region. She will be supported by BMLT’s Conservation Director, Jason Bulay. 

As we get settled in the John Day, our Education and Development Specialist, Lauren Platman, and I will work on education and development opportunities in the region. 

Expanding Blue Mountain Land Trust’s service area into eastern Oregon will strengthen our operations and finances by providing economies of scale and diversifying our conservation projects. More importantly, BMLT’s presence in the John Day River Basin provides another resource to landowners to better preserve their working lands in this precious region. 

We look forward to the exciting work ahead and will keep you posted on the progress.

Whitman Students Pursue Internships in Walla Walla

While many Whitman students choose to look out of state or out of town for internships and job opportunities, there are a few students choosing to stay right here in Walla Walla. Four Whitman students hold environmental internships in Walla Walla this year that include working with the Blue Mountain Land Trust, the Natural Resources Career Center in Walla Walla and the Every Kid in a Park Program. The internships share a common theme of environmental justice, education and nonprofit work, differing slightly in the specific focus of the internship.

Blue Mountain Land Trust selects new Conservation Director

January 15, 2016

BLUE Mountain Land Trust selects
new Conservation Director

By Tim Copeland, Executive Director

A lifelong resident of Maine, Jason Bulay came to Walla Walla and the Blue Mountain Land Trust this month after spending the summer of 2015 hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.

Jason holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Parks, Recreation, & Tourism from the University of Maine, a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Maine School of Law, and a passion for protecting natural and working landscapes. He is also a hiking enthusiast who has logged over 5,000 backpacking mile including a 1999 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
Jason first became involved with land conservation professionally with the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, a land trust in central Maine where he worked for five years in the conservation and stewardship departments.
He lives in Walla Walla with his wife Catie, a speech pathologist who holds a graduate degree from the University of Oregon.

Cunha Easement Adds 3,000 Acres in Union County to Blue Mountain Land Trust’s Conservation Portfolio

September 4, 2015

Cunha Easement Adds 3,000 Acres in Union County to Blue Mountain Land Trust’s Conservation Portfolio

By Tom Reilly, Conservation Director

Imagine a place in the Blue Mountains where springs and streams run clear, cold, and pure. Where steelhead spawn and are reared along with juvenile Chinook salmon. Where elk live and roam almost year round. Where three miles of important tributaries to the Grande Ronde River are conserved in an undeveloped state forever. Where lack of development or subdivision provides spectacular scenic views of the surrounding mountains and countryside.  The Cunha Ranch is just such a place, and it is now conserved forever by a conservation easement held by the Blue Mountain Land Trust.

Known officially as the Dark Canyon Conservation Easement, nearly 3,000 acres of a working cattle ranch is our latest conservation easement acquisition.  The property is nestled in the foothills near Starkey, Oregon southwest of La Grande, where Meadow Creek enters the Grande Ronde River.  The property contains two river miles of Dark Canyon Creek, a major tributary to Meadow Creek, one mile of which winds through the property.  Over 250 acres of wetland and riparian habitat are found on the property.  In addition to the abundance of natural resources, the property will remain in private hands as a working cattle ranch, providing economic benefit while remaining on the tax rolls of Union County.

The Dark Canyon easement meets many conservation values and public benefits important to the Blue Mountain Land Trust including:

  • Preservation of juvenile rearing and migration of Snake River spring-summer Chinook salmon listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Preservation of spawning and rearing habitat of threatened Snake River summer steelhead.
  • Preservation of wildlife habitat including important big game winter range.
  • Opportunity to protect and enhance water quality.
  • Extinguishment of development rights on the property, thus preserving the scenic beauty and open space of the land by preventing subdivision, fragmentation of habitat, and development.
  • Protection of the property from intensive grazing; timber harvest except for forest health and improvement of habitat; stream channelization; or road construction.

The landowners retained a 3-1/2 acre building site on the property for a single residence but no development or construction will be allowed on the rest of the land.

Partners in this project include the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which funded the acquisition, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), which identified the project opportunity and initiated the acquisition and brought in Blue Mountain Land Trust in 2013 to complete the transaction.

The funding was committed by BPA for use by the CTUIR in the 2008 Columbia Basin Fish Accords Memorandum of Agreement between the Three Treaty Tribes and the Federal Columbia River Power System Action Agencies for the benefit of fish and wildlife.  Both BPA and the CTUIR retain rights of enforcement of the easement, and the easement will be held in perpetuity by the Blue Mountain Land Trust.

BMLT assumes long term stewardship and defense of this easement, and will conduct annual monitoring to ensure that the conservation easement is followed as agreed by the landowners.

Current property owners Joe and Patti Cunha are excited to be partners in conservation.  As Patti is fond of saying, “everything the land trust wants for the property we want as land owners.”  The property has been in the Cunha family for generations.

The original Cunha family ranch encompassed 12,000 acres in the Grande Ronde Valley.  Joe Cunha is the last family member owning part of the original ranch. In recent decades nearby ranches have been sold and subdivided. Land use in the area has been transitioning from ranching to residential/recreational.

The Cunhas want to keep the property in the family and to continue its traditional use for well-managed cattle grazing during summer months and for fishing, hunting, and overall enjoyment year round.

This acquisition marks a major milestone for the Blue Mountain Land Trust.  For years we have wanted to acquire conservation properties in Oregon to fulfill our commitment to the two states we serve.  Our first success is a major one in furthering our mission.

This project came about through a solid collaborative working relationship with a major conservation partner, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. And this property certainly represents the scenic, natural, and working lands that characterize our region. 

With this acquisition, our twelfth conservation easement, we now have stewardship of 3,800 acres of land in two states!

Blue Learning on the Land Grows to 14 Events; Educational Series Showcases Rural Diversity

August 1, 2015

Blue Learning on the Land Grows to 14 Events; Educational Series Showcases Rural Diversity

By Andrea Burkhart, Immediate Past President

From its inception, Learning on the Land (LOL) has served to spotlight the variety of ways in which human experience interacts with the Blue Mountain landscape.  Originally conceived as a way to connect nature enthusiasts with the unique places and experiences our service area has to offer, in 2015, LOL has grown to fourteen events that provide a unique perspective on what it means to call the Blue Mountain region home.

Our first event, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, looked at the universal experience of being touched by nature through a series of short films highlighting special places, the gifts they offer, and the threats they face.  Biking the Blues offered the chance to see the foothills from a new perspective and to cycle some of our favorite routes in the Walla Walla valley.  Peas on Earth took us to see the Rea family’s pea harvest in action and follow green peas from the field through the Smith Frozen Foods processing plant.  Valle Lindo Day offered children a chance to visit the unique and pristine Walla Walla watershed and learn about where our drinking water is sourced, made potable, and treated.  To Bee or Not to Bee invited us to an alfalfa seed farm to see the husbandry techniques used to raise leafcutter and alkali bees for crop pollination.  Super Hero Trees took kids on a walk though Pioneer Park to explore our heritage trees, then introduced them to some of the raptors that call those trees home.  We enjoyed a special tour of the Earl Brown family’s apple orchards and their Blue Mountain Cider Company. And Bob Berger fascinated us all with his walking tour of Walla Walla’s beautiful and historic trees.

Over 400 guests have enjoyed our Learning on the Land programs as of August 1.

Learning on the Land programs are possible only through the strong public support we’ve received and the generous support of our sponsors.  We are especially grateful to Columbia REA, Peak Fitness, Banner Bank, the American Association of University Women, Inland Family Dentistry, Wenzel Nursery and the Walla Walla Foundry for making our first eight LOL events such incredible successes.

Don’t miss the remaining Learning on the Land programs and the chance to broaden your experience of what the Blue Mountain region has to offer!  Information about all BMLT programs is available on our website at  Like us on Facebook to get event previews, photos, and more.

We’ll be planning LOL 2016 soon, so please share your feedback and your ideas for future events.

Sherwood Trust Awards a $195,000 Grant to Sustain Conservation Department

June 1, 2015

Sherwood Trust Awards a $195,000 Grant to Sustain Conservation Department

By Tim Copeland, Executive Director

The Donald and Virginia Sherwood Trust awarded our land trust a $195,000 grant on June 4. The grant provides funding for our conservation department for three years beginning in January, 2016.

BMLT’s conservation activities depend heavily on the expertise and hard work of our conservation director. Providing the director with appropriate compensation and financial support for other conservation expenses is critical to the fulfillment of our mission. This award will help us meet this requirement through 2018.

The award provides us an opportunity to make the conservation department sustaining and self-sufficient through the generation of income from its activities. We will explore a number of income-producing opportunities that the conservation department may implement with the goal of making it self-sustaining before 2019.

In awarding the grant, the Sherwood Trust’s representatives noted our innovative conservation department plan, the board’s high level of involvement in the governance of the land trust and the quality of our programs and outreach as reasons for their positive decision.

“This is wonderful news,” said executive director Tim Copeland. “It affirms that we have many great opportunities and encourages us to take innovative actions. We are very thankful to the Sherwood Trust’s trustees for their great diligence in approving our grant request and to Donald and Virginia Sherwood for the creation of this trust which has helped so many organizations in our community.”

Blue Mountain Land Trust Earns National Recognition Accreditation Awarded by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

December 17, 2014

Blue Mountain Land Trust Earns National Recognition Accreditation Awarded by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

By Tim Copeland, Executive Director

The Blue Mountain Land Trust announced today it has achieved land trust accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance.

“The accreditation process demonstrates that land trusts nationwide operate professionally, following generally accepted best practices, and are committed to fulfilling the responsibility of protecting lands forever,” said Andrea Burkhart, president of the Blue Mountain Land Trust. “Thanks to the accreditation process, we’ve implemented high standards of governance, management and operational excellence.  These steps demonstrate to the public that private land conservation really matters and deserves support.”

“Accreditation with the Land Trust Alliance is something the board and staff have worked to obtain for quite some time,” said Beth Kreger, the Land Trust’s president-elect. “We could not have accomplished such a significant achievement without our supporters.”

The Blue Mountain Land Trust serves Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties in Washington and Umatilla and Union counties in Oregon. It was founded in 1999 and has worked with conservation-minded landowners to protect over 800 acres of working farms and forests in the region. Last year, the trust conserved a 238-acre farm that has been in the same family ownership for over 100 years. It is currently working to conserve a 3,000-acre cattle ranch and hopes to acquire its conservation easement in early 2015.

The Blue Mountain Land Trust was awarded accreditation this month and is one of only 285 land trusts from across the country that has been awarded accreditation since 2008. Accredited land trusts are authorized to display a seal indicating to the public that they meet national standards for excellence, uphold the public trust and ensure that conservation efforts are permanent. The seal is a mark of distinction in land conservation.

“This round of accreditation decisions represents another significant milestone for the accreditation program; the 285 accredited land trusts account for three quarters of the 20,645,165 acres currently owned in fee or protected by a conservation easement held by a land trust,” said Land Trust Accreditation Commission Executive Director Tammara Van Ryn. “Accreditation provides the public with an assurance that, at the time of accreditation, land trusts meet high standards for quality and that the results of their conservation work are permanent.”

Each accredited land trust submitted extensive documentation and underwent a rigorous review. “Through accreditation land trusts conduct important planning and make their operations more efficient and strategic,” Van Ryn said. “Accredited organizations have engaged and trained citizen conservation leaders and improved systems for ensuring that their conservation work is permanent.”

According to the Land Trust Alliance, conserving land helps ensure clean air and drinking water; provide safe, healthy food; secure scenic landscapes and recreational places; and maintain habitat for the diversity of life on earth. Conserving land can also increase property values near greenbelts, save tax dollars by encouraging more efficient development and reduce the need for expensive water filtration facilities. Across the country, communities have come together to form more than 1,700 land trusts to save the places they need and love. To date, over 47 million acres of farms, forests and parks have been conserved, including land transferred to public agencies and protected via other means. Strong, well-managed land trusts provide local communities with effective champions and caretakers of their critical land resources, and safeguard the land through the generations.

“We are proud to display the accreditation seal and represent communities across our service area knowing that we are holding ourselves to the very highest of standards,” said Tom Reilly, the Blue Mountain Land Trust’s conservation director. “Accreditation is not just a one-time event but rather a way of doing business every day.”

About the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., awards the accreditation seal to community institutions that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts from around the country. See a complete list of all recently accredited land trusts online. More information on the accreditation program is available on the Commission’s website.

About The Land Trust Alliance

Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the place people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents 1,200 member land trusts supported by more than 5 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, DC, and operates several regional offices. More information about the Alliance is available online.