Cut-and-Paste Conservation: Computer scientist Larry Tesler donates 43 acres in Illinois Valley

By Mark Freeman, Mail Tribune

Posted Nov. 29, 2014 at 12:01 AM

TAKILMA — The man who created the “cut-and-paste” writing feature for computers has cut a piece of the Illinois River Basin out of development forever.

Larry Tesler, a one-time Takilma resident who first tinkered with the oft-used computer-editing function while at Stanford in the late 1960s, has donated a 43-acre pacrel of wetlands and floodplain along the East Fork of the Illinois River to the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

The land is prime wild coho salmon spawning and rearing habitat and creates a wildlife corridor between the East Fork and another, larger, meadowy parcel on which the SOLC has a conservation easement to keep it from development.

“As a protected corridor, it has great values,” says Kristi Mergenthaler, the SOLC’s botanist now working to categorize the flora and fauna that inhabit the land.

“Now the western pond turtles there can walk from ponds to wetlands to streams without encountering vehicles, buildings or domestic dogs,” Mergenthaler says.

SOLC will not only study the land and waterway but also develop some “light stewardship” projects while mainly letting it be, Mergenthaler says.

“It’s going to be protected as a wild piece of country that won’t be developed,” Mergenthaler says.

Tesler says he stepped in, bought the land and donated it because he did not want to see its wildness ever go away.

“The whole reason I did it was to protect it,” Tesler says. “It’s just not an appropriate or practical place to build. It would be a disappointing situation if someone started abusing that land.”

The donation represents the latest circumstance in which the cut-and-paste staple of computer writing and the tiny Josephine County hamlet of Takilma remain entwined.

While at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1969, Tesler was working on publishing systems while doing page layouts that included cutting paragraphs with X-Acto knives and pasting them into the text.

“I said, ‘Someday, we’ll just do this on a computer,'” Tesler says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a good idea.’ ”

He and some friends bought 80 acres of land near Takilma and Tesler moved there in 1970. He instantly became enthralled with the East Fork’s waters.

“When I lived there, people said there used to be salmon there,” Tesler says. “It was a ‘used to.'”

But Tesler couldn’t quite get used to living in a one-computer county, and he returned to the Bay Area and eventually landed in 1973 at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center.

Various editions of cut-and-paste existed at that time. But the succinct feature credited to Tesler and corroborator Tim Mott, developed in 1973-76, is the one now used on computer tablets and smartphones worldwide.

As cut-and-paste entrenched itself in the editing lexicon, Tesler continued to visit Takilma and eventually accrued sole ownership of the 80-acre parcel he deemed impractical for any development.

Over time, be became more enrapt with the 43-acre tract next door that was part of his viewscape. In 1999, he and two friends bought it to ensure its resources were conserved. The following year, Tesler sold his interest in the original 80 acres and bought out his partners in the 43-acre tract.

He started looking into ways to ensure the land remain undeveloped, including SOLC’s conservation easement program, in which the conservancy pays landowners to keep parcels undeveloped.

“But that’s not something to will to your heirs, to keep something in perpetuity,” Tesler says.

He and his wife deeded the land to SOLC last month, nearly doubling the conservancy’s ownership in Josephine County, Mergenthaler says.

Add its nearly 9,200 acres in conservation easements and SOLC ranks second only to The Nature Conservancy in land conservation in Oregon, Mergenthaler says.

This week wild coho salmon, which are federally listed as a threatened species in Southern Oregon, are finning their way up the East Fork through the property, which also is home to excellent rearing waters for juvenile coho and other critters that gravitate there.

“That land teems with wildlife because it’s been unoccupied for decades,” Tesler says.

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