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Originally published Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 4:09 PM

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Land trust opens new Oregon office, raises profile

A Vancouver, Wash.-based organization dedicated to preserving land near the Columbia River has opened a new office in Hood River, Ore., in an effort to raise its profile.

The Associated Press

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VANCOUVER, Wash. —

A Vancouver, Wash.-based organization dedicated to preserving land near the Columbia River has opened a new office in Hood River, Ore., in an effort to raise its profile.

The Columbia Land Trust had modest beginnings, but in the past two decades has grown to manage 24,000 acres in and around the Columbia River Watershed. It has a staff of two dozen people, a multimillion-dollar budget and the support of 1,800 members.

By opening the Hood River office last month, the organization is trying to have a more visible presence in an area that has become a key part of its restoration and conservation efforts, The Columbian newspaper reports ( http://is.gd/wiQKcg).

"I don't think I ever imagined a day when the geographical range of its work is as big as it is now," said Bill Dygert, a founding member of the land trust's board.

The land trust recently acquired 299 acres along the Hood River and aims to restore three miles of river habitat downstream of the old Powerdale Dam.

It has also conserved more than 9,000 acres of land near Mount St. Helens and 3,500 acres around the Klickitat River in the Columbia Gorge area.

The trust was formed in 1990 with a handful of volunteers, each interested in local land conservation. Most were driven at least partially by the rapid development they saw around them in the late 1980s and 1990s. It had no paid staff for several years, just volunteers. Each juggled day jobs and other obligations. Progress was hit-and-miss.

Lamb admits the land trust's efforts were "haphazard" at times in the early years. The group tackled projects and took on donated land, but didn't have a grander vision.

The hiring of a full-time fundraiser in the late `90s helped change that.

The organization broadened its scope, looking for new opportunities in the Columbia River Gorge and downstream toward the coast.

But the organization's executive director, Glenn Lamb, said preserving land in Clark County, where it was founded, remains an important part of its work. The land trust has had a hand in conserving more than 1,000 acres of land in Clark County, much of it in the last decade.

Its efforts in southwest Washington could include a renewed emphasis on protecting local farmland from development by keeping it in active farming, he said. That could boost an already-growing local food movement, Lamb said.

Lamb knows conversations around conservation aren't always smooth. Some rural counties already struggle with a lagging tax base, and putting land off-limits to development or resource can be difficult to swallow. Just before a major land trust purchase near Mount St. Helens was announced this month, Skamania County commissioners sent a letter to Southwest Washington's Congressional delegation highlighting the "precarious financial position" of the county due to so much land being protected. Only 2 percent of the county's land generates regular yearly private property tax, the commissioners said.

But past conservation work has crossed political and cultural boundaries before, Lamb said. It resonates on a deeper level, he added.

"When we started Columbia Land Trust, we believed that the people of the Northwest, it was part of the fabric of our personalities and our communities to care about this place," Lamb said.

"I think that's why we get the response that we get, is that it appeals to people at a really visceral level - that we're doing something that matches their values."

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Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com

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