Oregon’s visionary land use system created more than forty years ago has preserved the natural abundance we all now enjoy, including family farms, ranches, open space and working forests; it is critically important to uphold those laws now and for future generations.

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Protecting Central Oregon Farm and Range Land

Farming and ranching is a critical aspect of Central Oregonians’ identity and our resilient economy. Since the 1970’s, agricultural lands have been protected in Oregon by exclusive farm use (EFU) zoning that prevents nonfarm uses from taking over agricultural land. For years, this policy has kept Oregon’s agricultural economy strong in part by keeping the cost of land reasonable for new farmers and ranchers, or established farmers and ranchers wishing to expand their operations.

Over the next two decades, Oregon agriculture as we know it may face a debilitating crisis when much of the state’s agricultural land passes to new ownership as a large number of farmers and ranchers begin to retire. “How that land changes hands, who acquires it, and what they do with the land will impact Oregon for generations” (The Future of Oregon's Agricultural Land, p. 5).

Nonfarm development on land zoned for exclusive farm use permanently takes that land out of production, reduces open space and wildlife corridors, and drives up land prices for future farmers. Central Oregon LandWatch uses our unique skillset to keep our agricultural land in the hands of family farmers and ranchers who want to preserve their way of life and Central Oregon’s rural economy for the next generation.

Banner Photo courtesy of Austin Montreil Leonard

  Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Closing the Loopholes in Farm protections

In 2016 Central Oregon LandWatch persevered against an attempt to erode protections for farmland with a favorable decision from the Oregon Court of Appeals.

A Sisters-area landowner applied for a permit to establish a private park in the middle of farmland and mule deer winter range, for the purpose of holding for-profit events. LandWatch appealed the private park permit to uphold protections for farmland and wildlife.

Commercial events are allowed on exclusive farm use land, but the purpose is to keep agriculture a vibrant and thriving industry. When passing the bill permitting some commercial events in the exclusive farm use zone in 2011, the Legislature adopted a variety of conditions to allow commercial uses under certain conditions that protect land zoned for farmland. If events were allowed in private parks, these protections would be negated.

In a decision that protects farmland across Oregon, the Court of Appeals ruled that a primarily commercial activity, like a wedding event venue, was not intended to be the primary use of a private park. Private parks are to be used for “low-intensity outdoor recreational use,” according to the Court. Thanks to LandWatch, this closes a gap in protections for farmland and still allows weddings and other events – as long as the correct conditions are met. 

Update: 

When the Court of Appeals ruled against the proposal for an event venue in the guise of a private park, the same property owner applied for an event venue in the guise of a church. LandWatch has appealed the County's approval of the latest application and a related text amendment to the County's comprehensive plan that would remove wildlife habitat protections on the property.

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