Grower cultivates environment, crops

Craig Reed/For the Capital Press Scott McKenzie of Langlois, Ore., works in a cranberry bog during the 2011 harvest in early October. McKenzie has done both the paperwork and the ground work to earn certification for his cranberries from Salmon Safe and Food Alliance, both third-party certifiers that give property owners credit for being environmentally friendly.

'Scott sees something that works, he adapts it;' shows the way for other growers

By CRAIG REED

For the Capital Press

LANGLOIS, Ore. -- When Scott McKenzie drives or walks about on his ranch property, he sees more than just cattle, sheep and cranberries.

He's also liable to see coho in the Elk River and in tributaries Swamp and Cedar creeks, snowy plovers in the sand dunes on the edge of his ranch, and geese and Western lilies on leased ground in nearby Cape Blanco State Park.

McKenzie, a fourth-generation rancher who was born and raised on the family ranch about 15 miles south of Bandon, Ore., has been involved in property enhancement since the 1980s and he became more aggressive in his land management to improve wildlife habitat in the last 10 years.

"I think we can be proud of what we've done," the 58-year-old said. "I like to show the place off to people."

Tom Purvis, the Natural Resources Conservation Service conservationist for Curry and Coos counties, has been working with McKenzie on enhancement projects for several years.

"He's one of the leaders in the Langlois, northern Curry County area, in doing this type of work," Purvis said of McKenzie. "There are about five families involved in the watershed association who are involved in projects to help improve the environment. They are working ranches who are doing what they can to improve their bottom line, but are still thinking outside the box.

"Scott sees something that works, he adapts it, and then when his neighbors and other ranches see it work for him, they'll adapt it as well," Purvis said.

In the 1980s when McKenzie was director of the Curry Soil and Water District and before there were major incentives and increased public pressure to do so, he began building fence at least 50 feet back from Elk River to keep his livestock from eroding the banks and disturbing coho salmon runs. He also had the riparian areas planted with spruce, red cedar, hemlock, alder and other shrubs under the guidance of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

About 10 years ago, McKenzie signed up with NRCS, and with material and construction costs covered proceeded to build 5 miles of fencing along the waterways on his ranch.

"Swamp and Cedar are two of the best coho overwintering streams here," the rancher said. "The fish need areas to get out of the flooded bigger streams."

The west side of the McKenzie ranch borders on the Pacific Ocean beach. He removed European beach grass to improve the sand habitat for the plovers.

At Cape Blanco State Park that McKenzie leases for livestock grazing, his pasture management on 280 acres benefits both migrating geese and the Western lily. Livestock grazing of the cover grass close to the ground makes it more appealing to the geese and hopefully lures them to this pasture and away from other private properties.

That type of pasture management and some clearing of the land has improved habitat for the Western lily that only grows along the coast and in a certain soil type. Cape Blanco has the right soil for the lily.

McKenzie has worked in partnership with the Oregon state parks system, and NRCS has helped with the management plans and provided financial assistance for the park enhancement. USDA through several farm bills has also provided incentives for McKenzie's projects over the past 10 years.

"Scott has met requirements for soil quality, water quality and wildlife habitat," Purvis said. "He's doing a fine job on each portion of his property as far as treating it for its best use. He's developed wildlife habitat areas on the land. There are several people in that watershed who have done so."

McKenzie has also done the paperwork and the groundwork to earn third-party certification from Salmon Safe and Food Alliance, signifying that his livestock and cranberry operations are environmentally friendly and sustainable.

"It's a duty for us as land managers to treat the land right," McKenzie said. "We'd been doing some of this work well before funding came along to help. It seemed like the right thing to do."

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