A Southern Oregon reunion to remember

By Sam Diaz | 4-minute read

Each year, 1000 Friends of Oregon community – board members, staff, our Forestry and Agriculture Advisory Committee leaders, and local affiliates – come together for a long weekend to connect on key land conservation and development issues. We visited Central Oregon and Eastern Oregon in 2022 and 2023, and this year, we took the opportunity to visit Southern Oregon to celebrate our mission and community, reflect on difficult setbacks, and chart a better way forward to address the most pressing issues we face as Oregonians. 

A kick-off reception at the Magnolia

A group of people mingle on a patio near a hotel
Reception at the Magnolia Hotel

In early April, 1000 Friends moved into the main street of Jacksonville, Oregon, for the weekend, flush with good food, wine, cider, and company at the Magnolia Hotel

More than just a fun family reunion, our stay was an opportunity to reconnect with friends, former board members, and longtime McCall Society supporters. Retreats like this are also important for meeting new friends that understand how important strengthening 1000 Friends and our land use system is to improving how long and how well we all live. Members raised important questions and concerns about losing irreplaceable farms, forests, and watersheds while they see decision-makers pass over vacant lands and empty buildings.

Touring Southern Oregon: wildfires, economic development, and regional coordination

All credit to our working lands director, Greg Holmes, who organized a half-day tour covering important land use planning questions, concerns, and opportunities. Our group of staff and board members, joined with local leaders and state legislators, visited five sites showcasing housing development and wildfire recovery, predominantly in areas burned by the 2020 Almeda wildfire – all on a bus courtesy of Rogue Valley Transportation District. 


Multifamily housing development
New housing within the Medford UGB

The tour kicked off with Medford’s deputy city manager, Kelly Madding, welcoming the group. She shared details about transforming a large, mixed-use site well inside the town of Medford into housing, shops, and trails all along an enhanced, protected creek. 

Talent and Phoenix’s wildfire response and recovery 

Newly built homes on a cloudy day
New homes, rebuilt after the 2020 wildfire

The state representative from southern Jackson County, Pam Marsh; Phoenix deputy city manager, Joe Slaughter; Talent’s mayor, Darby Ayers-Flood; and Talent councilor Eleanor Ponomareff spoke about the horrific 2020 fires, the government’s response, and the successes and setbacks of ongoing recovery. 

The fire used oily blackberry bushes along a nearby creek as fuel, burning homes and shops. While the fire didn’t discriminate, the recovery has been unequal. The majority of residents who had private homeowner’s insurance before the fire are now living in brand-new replacement homes. But for the residents who did not have private homeowner’s insurance, they have been waiting for relief. Many are working Oregonians who lived in manufactured homes along the creek prior to the fire, losing all their possessions. 

Local leaders noted how Talent is on the frontlines for pushing for critical changes to emergency response and recovery, and how important it is to ensure local city code is up to wildfire-ready standards prior to a crisis. These lessons inform 1000 Friends of Oregon’s current advocacy efforts to prepare for wildfire. The board of directors also reflected on how emergency preparedness and recovery can be a future focus area in our next strategic plan. 

Regional coordinated development

Vineyards and an open field on a cloudy dat
The grassy field in the distance is now within the UGB, zoned industrial

Local land use attorney Dan O’Connor joined attendees at a scenic vista within an urban reserve that abuts an area recently added to the Phoenix UGB – an economically significant area for the region. This area represents the conclusion of a regional problem-solving process (RPS) in which towns agreed to a collaborative, strategic regional economic-development plan rather than a siloed, competitive, and counterintuitive one. Through this process, the boundaries of Medford and Phoenix have merged, and eventually Talent may also join. Leaders mentioned the value of RPS; the certainty it brings landowners, companies, and the towns; and the soon-to-be economic development plans for the region because of the land use planning efforts. 

The 590-acre site that’s now within the UGB, and zoned industrial, is one of the sites that 1000 Friends referred to in testimony on Senate Bill 4, last year’s semiconductor bill. It’s one of the many large sites inside existing urban growth boundaries that are zoned industrial that could be home for semiconductor expansions. 

A valley view for the big picture

A group of people face away from the camera, looking out over a green open space
Discussing future development in Medford

Over the course of a few years and through countless staff efforts, Medford agreed to close some of the “doughnuts of development” – places within the UGB that tend to be surrounded by developed urban spaces but are otherwise underutilized and vacant lands prime for housing. 

As we enjoyed a stunning view of the Rogue Valley, Senator Jeff Golden offered closing remarks on the day, giving insight into legislative debates about Oregon’s land use protections like its cornerstone feature: urban growth boundaries. 

Strategic planning

Throughout the weekend, 1000 Friends of Oregon’s board of directors reflected on our current strategic plan and identified ways we can be helpful and responsive with our next five-year strategic plan to some of Oregon’s hard-hitting issues that we saw so clearly outlined in our time in Southern Oregon. Visiting with elected officials and our members and partners always brings more urgency, clarity, and purpose to getting land use decisions right with and for Oregonians. 

Thanks to the Magnolia Hotel, Bella Union, and Rogue Valley Transportation District for generously hosting us throughout the weekend. From 1000 Friends, thank you for an unforgettable annual get together, Southern Oregon. We can’t wait to return!