Partner Profile: Plant Oregon

Haley Walker
Haley Walker
Communications Director for The Freshwater Trust

It’s easy to miss the turn that leads to Plant Oregon.

The country road curves sharply through the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains and demands attention. An understated sign sits next to a tall tree and blends into a long row of mailboxes.

Even if you do make the right turn, you might still question yourself after passing a barn and a vintage car or when two dogs bound after you. It’s more like visiting a private home than one of the largest nurseries in southern Oregon. At the end of Wagner Creek road, you’ll find both.

Family owned and operated Plant Oregon is The Freshwater Trust’s primary restoration contractor in the Rogue River basin.

Since 2012, TFT has worked with landowners throughout the Rogue basin to plant native trees and shrubs along the river and its tributaries. The goal is to produce shade and offset the warmer water discharged from the City of Medford’s wastewater treatment plant after treating water used by nearly 200,000 people.

Under the Clean Water Act, the city is obligated to mitigate its temperature impacts. Warmer rivers have less oxygen and cause fish eggs to incubate earlier, decreasing survival rates.

“For this program, the first of its kind, to be successful, we knew that we needed capable, dedicated partners who could help us establish and steward the streamside forest of the future,” said Eugene Wier, restoration project manager with TFT. “Plant Oregon was excited to step up and be that partner, and since then we have become one of their biggest customers.”

Over the past five years, TFT has done nearly a million dollars worth of business with the nursery. It’s not a drop in the bucket for any business, much less a small one in rural Oregon.

“I used to have to get operating loans to get through the winter to spring sales,” said Owner Dan Bish. “Since starting work with The Freshwater Trust, we could also afford to drop some of the things that may have been producing income but that we didn’t enjoy as much.”

Dan is the patriarch. Dave, his 36-year-old son, runs the nursery alongside him.

“I’ll be honest,” said Dan, laughing. “He’s really the driving force around here. He makes it happen.”

Dave’s wife Jenny keeps the books and helps with customers. Son Skylar is growing up on the property too.

“As mellow and easygoing as these guys seem, don’t let it fool you,” said Wier. “They have created a culture of dedication to the work within their business and are some of the most self-motivated folks I’ve ever met.”

Plant Oregon’s crew of seven supplies TFT’s dozens of restoration projects with Ponderosa Pine, Black Cottonwood, Big Leaf Maple, Oregon Ash and White Alder. They’re also often responsible for installation and stewardship to ensure these trees thrive.

“The fact that we hire local people and businesses in these communities means we’re not just doing good for the resource, we’re providing jobs and doing good for the economy,” said Wier.

Since 2012, nearly 30 acres and 4 miles of streamside have been planted along tributaries of the Rogue, including the Applegate River and South Fork, Bear and Little Butte Creeks. The plants are reducing erosion, filtering nutrients, sequestering carbon, and producing shade.

As stipulated in the agreement with the City of Medford, the vegetation planted by TFT and Plant Oregon needs to offset more than 300 million kilocalories worth of solar load per day. A kilocalorie represents the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of a liter of water by 1.0 degree Celsius.

“Essentially what that means is that we have to plant a lot of trees, and we need to be sure – and specific – about the benefits those trees provide,” said Wier. “We’re responsible for guaranteeing, not guessing, that we’re having an impact.”

TFT uses satellite imagery and modeling to assess where the trees will have the maximum benefit. Next, 20-year leases with willing landowners are signed and plants installed. Diligent project maintenance ensures the plants will thrive and routine monitoring documents the intended outcomes over time.

“The projects have a long lifespan, which keeps our crews working and busy,” said Dan. “We also watch as everything gets nice and big, and we get to know the landowners. We’ll wave while they’re at their kitchen window, so they know we’re here. We’re really all neighbors down here.”

The Bish family has called southern Oregon home for generations. The business was founded in 1976, when Dan was 21.

“I started small and invested every dime I made,” he said. “In ’79, this property came up for sale, and I worked to get it.”

The family’s 50-something acre homestead runs along Wagner Creek, a tributary to the Rogue. Standing among the rows of tall trees and short shrubs that seem to envelop a cabin and office, greenhouses, a pond, company trucks and an electric car, you can hear it flowing.

“Since this is home, we see this tributary every day,” said Bish. “We actually irrigate out of it, and it’s kind of cool to know that working with TFT, we get to be a part of making our home better too.”

To continue to offset the temperature impacts of the Meford’s wastewater treatment facility, TFT will recruit dozens more landowners to participate in streamside restoration.

Many of the plants used in coming years will come from the Bish family’s place along Wagner Creek and their second plot of land, Lookfar Farm, on the east side of the Rogue River Valley.

“Successful restoration cannot be done alone nor in a silo,” said Wier. “ It begins with dedication, to the plants, the practices, the river, and the people who live along it. Plant Oregon covers all those, making them an ideal partner for The Freshwater Trust.”

January 4, 2018


#restoration economy    #river restoration    #Rogue River    #Rogue River Basin    #streams    

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