Two local environmental groups join forces

Two environmental watchdog groups have merged to strengthen their conservation efforts in southwestern Oregon and the northwestern corner of California.

The Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Siskiyou Project in Grants Pass announced Wednesday they have joined forces to work together for environmental protection and sustainable communities.

The combined group will work under the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center banner head. The center was formed in 1997, the Siskiyou Project in 1983.

The merger was prompted by common goals as well as common sense, said Stephanie Tidwell, executive director of KS Wild for the past eight years.

"Over the years we had increasingly been moving toward similar priorities," said Tidwell, who will remain as executive director of the center. "We found ourselves working together a lot on the same stuff.

"It became more and more obvious it made more sense to have one group more efficiently doing the work with a unified, stronger voice," she added.

However, the geographic footprint will remain largely the same, she said.

"To be honest, our staff is already overextended, working way more than full time," she said. "With the project staff coming on, it will give us more capacity in Southern Oregon and the wild rivers area."

The latter includes the lower Rogue as well as the Illinois, Chetco, Smith, Winchuck and Pistol rivers, she said.

With the change, Shane Jimerfield, the former executive director of the Siskiyou Project, becomes the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Program Director at the center. Former project ecologist Rich Nawa is now staff ecologist at the center.

Noting that the lower section of the Rogue alone generates some $17 million and nearly 450 jobs from recreational activities each year, Jimerfield said the focus is more than environmental since protecting the resource will protect those jobs.

Like Tidwell, he said the merger will give the combined group further reach.

"It's not one-plus-one equals two — it's one-plus-one equals four," said Jimerfield, who has directed the Siskiyou Project for the past four years.

"This gives us a greater capacity to get things done," he added. "We will save in administrative work while having more time for conservation work."

Both Jimerfield and Tidwell indicated they feel the state of the environment will become a bigger issue in the future.

"As climate change become more and more of a reality, our conservation challenges will become more significant and more important," Tidwell said. "It is our job to not only be advocates but empower other people being affected by these changes, whether they are clean water issues or healthy forests."

Siskiyou Project board members Bob Hunter, David Johns and Laurel Sampson have joined KS Wild's board of directors.

The group will retain offices in Ashland as well as Grants Pass.

For more information, check out www.kswild.org.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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