World Ocean’s Day and Our Conversation with The Nature Conservancy’s Associate Director for the Coast and Marine

Today we celebrate our world’s oceans. That seems like the perfect day to celebrate an Oregon Coast treasure – Cascade Head Preserve. The nature preserve and surrounding national forest at Cascade Head are so special they have won recognition as a National Scenic Research Area and a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. The waters off the coast here are also protected as one of Oregon’s five marine reserves. Pretty rad right? Thanks to the fine folks at The Nature Conservancy, such as Dick Vanderschaaf, this stunning site will be around to safely enjoy for decades to come. Continue reading for information from our Pinkies Down Podcast interview with The Nature Conservancy’s Associate Director of the Coast and Marine Program – Dick Vanderschaaf.

Welcome Dick, can you tell us about your history with The Nature Conservancy?

DV- Hi, I’ve been here with The Nature Conservancy for many moons, and really enjoy my work. I do all sorts of fun things here at the coast, primarily working on conservation, no surprise. In the salty world, primarily in the ocean, but also somewhat in the estuaries as well—all here on our diverse coastline.

Cascade Head

Cascade Head Viewpoint1©Devan King/TNC

PDP- Well, thank you for everything you do. We appreciate it. As a lot of my fellow Oregonians and folks from outside of Oregon love and enjoy spending time at the coast, we want to keep it as beautiful as ever. We appreciate you and everything you folks do.

To start us off, we’re going to talk about marine protected areas today. Can you tell us what is a marine protected area?

DV- Sure, a marine protected area is really an area just as it sounds: a designated site that’s typically in the ocean, usually it abuts to land, but it doesn’t have to. It could be out there in the open ocean. It protects all sorts of the resources that are contained within it. The fish, the bottom habitat, the seaweeds that are maybe there. All these different things, in different ways. And there’s all different kinds of marine protected areas. Some prevent all sorts of extraction fishing and any kind of development. These are usually called a marine reserve, that’s the strongest kind of protection that we have available. Whereas other ones have other sorts of limitations on certain kinds of fishing. Potentially they may that there’ll be no ocean development of different kinds.

Nowadays we’re seeing a lot of interest in the ocean for energy development, these sorts of things. People created offshore wind development on the East Coast, and it’s being looked at here in the West Coast of the US as well. A marine protected area could be designated to say ‘no energy development’ as well.

Cascade Head

Cascade Head Viewpoint2©Devan King/TNC

PDP- Thank you for shedding a little light on that. With a better understanding of marine protected areas, diving deeper into a more specific spot: Cascade Head. Could you speak on the history in this story on that location?

DV- Yeah sure. Cascade Head, as you probably know, is a well-known big headland on the Oregon coast right on the Central Coast. The headland itself was purchased by The Nature Conservancy way back in 1966. We protected this big grassy prominent headland that overlooks the Salmon River. It’s been a Nature Conservancy preserve for all these years now. The one thing that we always have known as we went up hiking there and protecting this unique grassland habitat right there at the coast, is that we were not protecting the ocean—and we knew we needed to. We weren’t the only people coming to realize that ocean protection was something that needed to be pursued much more strongly here in Oregon.

In the early 2000s, the governor directed the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council, a citizen group who advises the governor, to come up with a process to protect special areas along the Oregon coast in the Oregon marine environment. Eventually what happened was, five areas were up for proposal for designation, of which offshore of Cascade Head was one of them. Then, there was a citizen panel that evaluated the site of Cascade Head. This took a year, and of course there’s lots of contentions about these sorts of things. But that finally wound its way through the process and recommendation was made to the Oregon legislature.

Then in 2012 there were five sites that were designated on the Oregon coast and Cascade Head was one of them. Cascade Head itself was already marine reserve. So again, that’s the strongest kind of protection and prevents any sorts of extractions. You can’t take any fish from this site, you can’t take any seaweed, you can’t do any development at the site—these sorts of things. Then, surrounding the marine reserve there are a series of three protected areas. There is one on the north side, there is one to the west side,  farther out in the ocean, and then there is one of the south side. These areas allow different sorts of “take” if you will. They allow sustainable fishing at some level. But they still prevent any kind of bought development whether it’s going to be for renewable energy or whatever the case may be. So, they’re still highly protected.

At Cascade Head, we have not only the land-based protected area, which is The Nature Conservancy preserve, but we also have the ocean-based protected area. And in the 1970s, the United Nations initiated and set aside the land-based area as the Cascade Head biosphere reserve, which is the international designation. So, Cascade Head really has both the land and the water protection going for it now. It’s just a huge complete package, which is really cool.

Cascade Head

Cascade Head Viewpoint3©Devan King/TNC

PDP- What a special place. But wow, that’s really quite a long period of time to get established?

DV- Yeah, it took a long time. There are a lot of meetings. A lot of contention about these things because they are setting cited areas that are excluding some traditional uses. It took a lot of meeting people to make agreements and compromises going forward. Cascade Head again, the offshore area is very well known as having the largest offshore reef: Siletz Reef, along the Oregon coast. It has some highly sustained fisheries as well. The marine reserve excludes any kind of fishing. But at the south end and the north end the marine protected areas that bracket the reserve do allow hook and line fisheries. That is again sustainable, and Oregon has well-regulated fisheries in general. These areas will be protected for a long time in a good way.

PDP- Fascinating. I know some of the fishing families have been around forever, some of those individuals and families being able to continue to earn a living and continue what they do is important. As general visitors such as myself or other folks that want to go visit Cascade Head, or other parts of the Oregon coast. How can we, as a collective, just be more mindful? What are some things that would be recommended?

DV- One thing to remember is there are five marine reserves. I certainly encourage people to go and visit these sites. They’re really interesting sites, each one is a little bit different. They span from the South coast at Redfish Rocks near Port Orford. It is an incredibly cool site; it is much different than the others. You can enjoy the beach, or you can get out into the water. Whether you’re a surfer or swimmer or paddler there’s ways to get into the water there.

I certainly encourage people to visit these five sites and enjoy them. To think of them kind of like a National Park. You go to National Park, and you may not be able to get to all of the park necessarily, but just the feeling of being at these sites is really a special feeling. The same thing holds true for the Oregon marine reserves, and the marine protected areas here on our coast.

A lot of people come to me and say “Well, how can I just go there and enjoy these sites? The Oregon ocean is so cold, what if I’m not a surfer with a strong wetsuit?” I say, “Just take your shoes off, wade down to the water, and you’re in the marine reserve! Right at that instant when your toes are down there just starting to numb off!”

You can certainly go and enjoy these sites on the North Coast. Many people enjoy the Cape Falcon reserve, they go to Oswald West State Park, which is of course hugely popular park here on the North Coast. It’s a place that many people visit. There’s over a million visitors a year there so these sites are accessible. They’re all special and I encourage people to go there and enjoy them in various ways. You can go hiking, you’re overlooking the ocean. You can be in the ocean if you have the wherewithal. Just go and enjoy them, that’s the most important thing to do.

PDP- I love it. A few of these places I hold near and dear. So, I sure enjoy hearing the zeal. Are there ways that we can continue to educate ourselves or help folks like yourself in The Nature Conservancy? Getting involved seems to be a good way to put the best foot forward.

DV- I think if you are traveling, if you’re local, you can certainly visit these sites and you can participate in various things here. You can maybe help with the monitoring program in one way or another. You can go to a site and maybe help with a regular beach cleanup. But if you’re not local you can certainly—with the wonders of digital media—keep up on these sites. Some places have videos you can watch, or you can certainly read through the agency websites that are tracking these things. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is the manager for the great reserves here in Oregon and they have a great website. For some places they have live-stream videos going on so there’s a lot of ways to keep up.

Finally, I certainly encourage you to support The Nature Conservancy. Our organization, and many other organizations as well, are looking at supporting and working hard at protecting the ocean. The ocean is obviously hugely important to us as people; it’s hugely important to our livelihoods; it has amazing cultural significance that we’re just beginning to better understand. I think we’re going to see in the future some marine protected areas come forward that are strictly being set aside for cultural reasons. Which is really neat to see this newly added diversity of importance for these sites, not just protecting biological diversity. But certainly, I encourage people to support organizations that are trying to do the right thing for the ocean. And to stand up for them when it comes to talking to your representatives. One way or the other, say “Hey, these places are important to us. We need the ocean, and we want you to do everything you can for it.”

PDP- That’s right. Give them a holler. Well, thank you. We appreciate it a lot. Sincerely we really do. Everybody here at Union, myself obviously. I don’t know what I’d do without the Oregon coast. It is definitely a place to go find balance. The least we can do is our best to protect it and keep it the beautiful place that it is.

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