The McKenzie River is a 90-mile tributary of the Willamette River located in western Oregon and is home to countless species of fish and wildlife forming the river’s delicate ecosystem. In 1989, a non-profit land trust called the McKenzie River Trust was formed with the goal of protecting those critical habitats and scenic lands within the McKenzie River basin in favor of clean water and a productive natural landscape.
Ben Miller has been associated with the McKenzie River Trust (the Trust) since 2006. He began as an Environmental and Natural Resources fellow at the University of Oregon where he helped address potential liability issues facing the Trust in terms of flood plain analysis templates, purchase agreements, and conservation easements. In 2009, he became an attorney for the Trust. Miller ultimately joined the Trust’s board of directors in 2010 and is currently serving as the Trust’s President. Miller is also an attorney with the City of Eugene and a professor at the University of Oregon School where he teaches a course on conservation easements and land trusts.
Miller anticipates significant changes in the conservation trust system in the future regarding funding and enforcement. Many land trusts rely on funding from state or federal sources, and such funds are always subject to reduction. Any decrease in funding will force those creating and choosing conservation trusts to be more creative and selective in their endeavors. Moreover, the enforcement of presently existing conservation easements could become an issue when future landowners either purchase or inherit land whereon the previous landowner allowed a conservation easement. If the future landowner does not want the easement to continue, the court will be called on to decide whether to terminate or modify the easement. Therefore, enforcement of these easements may require a more active legal role.
Miller has a few suggestions to law students interested in a legal career involving conservation trusts. First, he suggests taking a course in conservation trusts to develop an understanding of water and land trusts along with the creation and enforcement of conservation easements. Additionally, he recommends working with conservation trust attorneys or local land trusts in order to gain practical experience with the issues involved in negotiating easements.
Students and community members who simply want to get involved with the McKenzie River Trust have many opportunities to do so. The Trust warmly welcomes any volunteers willing to plant trees, lead tours, perform restoration work, and help at special events like the annual summer event on Green Island. Students and community members can also serve on committees for development, fundraising, and communication. There are also land committees that review and evaluate the biological value of real property as well as make suggestions to the Trust regarding whether or not to move forward with conservation easements. For those seeking more in-depth involvement with the Trust, Miller suggests serving on the Trust’s board of directors that is comprised of fourteen board members who manage and provide services and financial advice to the Trust.
For more information about the McKenzie River Trust, visit the website at http://mckenzieriver.org.