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Out West student blog

We out here

three people laugh while standing in a field of orange flowers
(From right to left) Ahmad Koya, his supervisor, Natasha, and his coworker, Ava at the Deschutes Land Trust.

Ahmad Koya, '24
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Area of Study: Environmental Engineering
Intern, Deschutes Land Trust

Ahmad Koya works to preserve Skyline Forest while ensuring the broader community of Central Oregon has a say in the conservation efforts

I work with Deschutes Land Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Central Oregon. My main project with the Land Trust centers around understanding our community's outlook on Skyline Forest, a 33,000-acre forest near the Oregonian towns of Bend and Sisters; the Land Trust's end goal is to ensure permanent ecological conservation of this massive Forest while prioritizing our community input. This Forest is a vital landscape for the residents of Central Oregon and beyond because of the many benefits it provides, such as recreational opportunities (biking, hiking, camping, wildlife watching, etc.), locations for solitude (due to the location being relatively undeveloped), and wildlife prosperity due to Skyline being a wildlife migration corridor for mule deer and other animals. 

In early June, the Land Trust had a meeting where members of our community discussed their values with our neighboring Forest. The results of the meeting shed insight into what we enjoy at Skyline and what we hope to see in the future; the values discussed were solitude, recreation, water protection, wildlife conservation, indigenous & cultural heritage, wildfire mitigation, thriving local economy, climate resilience, and equitable access. During that meeting, we asked for volunteers to provide further detailed insight into each of the values, so we could understand how to best represent them in the future. 

During these past weeks, I've been setting up meetings with these volunteers. So far, we've had four meetings where we discuss many insightful things, such as:

- We aim to understand how well we define the values; we need to ensure that our language appropriately captures the scope of the value while ensuring it's understandable for our broader community. 

- We ask our volunteers if we need to restructure our current list of values. For example, we previously had a value called contiguous landscape, but after our meeting, we discovered that it was essentially embedded in other values (e.g., to ensure that mule deer can properly migrate, it is ideal if the landscape is contiguous for easy access.). In replacement, we added wildfire mitigation because the Forest is prone to fire (the last two occurred in 2010 and 2014). 

- We talk about how to uphold our values in the future. For example, during our solitude meeting, we discovered that people enjoy Skyline because they can have a place of exploration and peace; however, because the Forest is also a place for recreation, we realized that it could be best if we established some sort of separation between developed and wilder areas of the Forest.

- We also seek to know who is missing from the conversation. For example, for the June meeting, the Land Trust invited people, but we could've easily missed people who are knowledgeable/interested in the value. As a result, we asked our volunteers for new connections because the more voices and input, the better.

- Finally, we discuss how best to share the insights from our meetings with the broader community. It has been emphasized that it's beneficial to streamline our communications through a single point of contact to prevent confusion for those who wish to help with our mission. 

Anyway, we have three more meetings set up, and I'm excited to see what new things I can learn. After the meetings, I'll send out our meeting notes to volunteers, everyone who attended our June meeting, and those who filled out our Skyline community survey (a survey that our organization created in which we received 559 responses. I actually created an infographic that condenses the results of the survey. A few notable highlights are that no self-identified Black/African Americans filled out the survey, which is sad to see as I am a Nigerian-American myself, and 537 out of 548 respondents said they would support the purchase of Skyline with the intention of conservation, an overwhelming majority.).

The amazing photos of me are from a hike at Three Creek Butte, a butte (a term I was unfamiliar with before coming to Oregon) within the Forest! It was a short hike, probably around a mile, and despite its not having the highest elevation, I had a great sightline of the 33,000 acres. The butte is located in a great spot because of the many mountains and the plentiful vegetation within view. The hike truly gave me an appreciation for the work the Land Trust is doing because if we can ensure Skyline is conserved, it would be a tremendous benefit to Central Oregon and beyond!

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