Nearly 200 miles away from the hubbub of the State Capitol, Jim Bob Collins runs an 18,000+ acre cattle ranch near Mitchell, Oregon.
Table Mountain Cattle Company (historically know as the Fopiano ranch) has been in agricultural use since Jim Bob’s family homesteaded it in 1883. The family has stewarded and managed Table Mountain Cattle Company for generations in a way that balances both the agricultural production of the land and the maintenance and improvement of its sensitive fish and wildlife habitat.
Jim Bob is active on a number of state and national boards that are exploring how to best keep working landscapes working, while continuing to enhance and manage natural resources and wildlife habitats. These include Wheeler Soil and Water Conservation District, the Oregon Soil and Water Conservation Commission, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and Partners for Conservation. One of the smartest ways to protect working lands and their natural resource values is to access federal farm bill dollars allocated to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). But Jim Bob and landowners like him cannot access these dollars because they require matching state funds and Oregon does not have a funded program. He saw the transformative benefit these funds could have for conservation in Oregon, and decided that he could take a quick break from feeding cattle and daily ranch chores to lobby for solutions in Salem.
Several weeks ago, Jim Bob and I met in Salem for a full day of meetings with legislators about the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP) – a set of voluntary grant mechanisms that could help Oregon’s farmers and ranchers preserve their working landscapes. The funding bill for OAHP – HB 2729—is currently in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, the state’s budget committee. The $10 million funding request is particularly important in light of recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census data showing that Oregon lost 340,000 acres of farmland in just five years between 2012 – 2017. Jim Bob’s own home county of Wheeler alone lost more than 14% of its farmland—nearly 92,000 acres— to various non Ag uses during the same period.
Through meetings with a diverse group of legislators, I learned that Jim Bob is as skilled at imprinting the urgency of protecting agricultural land as he is at raising cattle. We can only hope that his visit left a mark on the legislators that are faced with the unenviable task of addressing so many critical funding needs for the coming biennium. In my mind, protecting our land base and the critical public benefits it provides is worthy of investing public dollars, especially when Oregon continues to lose out on federal funding that other states secure.