Caring for Our Planet

How a 30-Year-Old Conservation Group Is Thwarting Developers and Protecting Pristine Forest Land

Columbia Land Trust now controls 45,000 acres along the Columbia River—where nothing will ever be built

By Marty Patail October 23, 2019

Image: Sara Wong

In the year 2000, Glenn Lamb went out to meet with a rancher along the Klickitat River in Washington state about conserving his property. The rancher—an owner of thousands of acres of some of the Northwest’s most critical oak woodlands— was known by local environmental advocates as a politically conservative hothead.

“We went and had coffee with him, and we had coffee again, and we had coffee again. He told us that his wife, before she died, made him promise that he would do whatever he could to keep the land from ever being developed,” recalls Lamb. “He was tearing up. He said, ‘I made this pledge to my wife and I never knew how I could fulfill that pledge.’ He ended up giving us his land.”

That “us” is the Columbia Land Trust, a 30-year-old organization that buys parcels of land in order to keep them from being developed. Once the group gains the rights to a piece of land, CLT also leads restoration efforts, like making habitats for the endangered Columbian white-tailed deer, restoring riverways for native amphibians and salmon, and removing old roads. If CLT does its job right, the lands will stay untouched forever. 

To date, CLT has conserved more than 45,000 acres along the Columbia River, from the John Day River to the Pacific.

It’s not just the small family owners like the Klickitat rancher who take Lamb’s calls. In 2008, a large private investment firm subdivided 20,000 acres on the south side of Mount St. Helens, with the goal of building thousands of cabins directly adjacent to the national monument. Two years later, Lamb had persuaded the group to sell the development rights to CLT instead.

“The Northwest forest land is some of the best carbon-sequestering land in the world,” says Lamb, referring to trees’ natural ability to retain carbon that might otherwise end up in our warming atmosphere. “So we have these amazing opportunities to make sure that the forest land is managed. We’ll have done our jobs, not when some number of acres is conserved, but when the people of this place so know, and love, and care for nature that our ownership almost doesn’t matter.”

The 15th Annual Light a Fire Awards

6 p.m., November 21, Oregon Convention Center


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