Q & A with Russ Hoeflich

Alyson Marchi-Young
Fri, 04/28/2017 - 8:00am

Meet the New 1000 Friends Executive Director

1000 Friends of Oregon is pleased to welcome our new Executive Director, Russ Hoeflich, to the team. We are very interested in getting to know more about Russ and what makes him tick, so our Marketing and Communications Strategist Alyson Marchi-Young got together with Russ for a quick Q & A. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Russ has a deep passion for conservation, loves to get out in nature, and has some big, bold ideas for Oregon’s future. Here’s what we learned….

Alyson: Thanks for taking some time to chat!

Russ: Of course! This is a great idea, and I can’t wait to hit the road; start meeting friends and supporters and learning from them. For the past two weeks I have been on the phone reconnecting with many of them.

A: What has their response been to your move to 1KF?

R: Very positive. People are excited. Some people I’ve spoken to have said “oh, I used to give to 1000 Friends and It’ll be great to reconnect.” That’s really something I look forward to - reconnecting folks to the heart of Oregon and to 1000 Friends.

A: That’s good to hear. We want to make even more strides towards connecting with people; re-engaging some, introducing others who are new.

R:  Philosophically, there are hundreds of new people who come to Oregon - come through Eden’s Gate every month. How do we connect and engage with them to value and invest and cherish what is special about Oregon? To challenge them to reflect upon the special attributes that brought them to the state: clean air, fresh water, livability, wilderness and outdoor recreation? How do we invite them in to invest in these attributes that make the state so unique? Like a ‘users guide’ that provides clarity on the history, culture, and natural needs of the state. It’s imperative to get the next generation to understand, value, engage, protect, and be stewards of the lands and laws that tie it all together.

A: Yes. Speaking of the special attributes in the state, can you talk about one of your favorite places in Oregon?

My absolute favorite is in Eastern Oregon - The Harson Butte on Zumwalt Prairie. A working landscape managed by The Nature Conservancy and open to the public. When you sit on the butte, it’s one of the highest points in region. The last time I was there, I was with my wife and two daughters, climbing through the Ponderosa Pines, blanketed with wildflowers, and we came face to face with a mother and cub cinnamon black bears. This area has one of the highest concentrations of Elk in Oregon. This butte is a special birthing area and it’s not unusual to see concentrations of over one thousand elk in a single visit. For birders like me, this is one of the top birding spots in the state. There are Western Meadowlarks, Swainsons, Ferruginous and Red-tailed hawks as well as Prairie falcons, numerous species of owls and two of my favorites: Mountain Bluebirds Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Lazuli Buntings in concentrations that are truly awe inspiring.

You close your eyes and take in the unique high prairie smells and sounds - the Meadow Lark singing and yes bees buzzing - it’s a pollinator security zone with one of the highest concentrations of bees in North America. It’s also one of the most diverse botanical regions of the state. And the people...they are as diverse as the landscape.

At the top of Harson Butte, you can see well beyond Hells Canyon  deep into Idaho, and turning West you are graced by the Wallowas. You know you are in a special place that has not changed much over time. You can see uninterrupted landscapes around you, and there is a reason - because of Oregon land use. Preserving this special place, balancing the needs of wildlife and the needs of community, that’s what this place is all about.

A: Wow, you’ve really painted a lovely picture of the region.

R: It’s beautiful, its diverse, and a model of sustainability I hope other communities can follow.

A: I’d like to shift gears and discuss a bit about you and 1000 Friends.

R: Sure.

A: What are you most excited to learn on the job?

R: I come to this job as a conservationist, with a background in biology and Environmental Science, and a history as a practicing conservationist. Through years of outreach to the forest, farm and ranching communities, I have deep appreciation for the needs and challenges they face. What I really look forward to is meeting up with and reconnecting with those who make their living from the land and get clear what their needs are and how 1000 Friends can best support them.

A: Oh, yes. We are really proud to be working with the folks pushing for the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program at the Legislature this year. Two-thirds of Oregon’s farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years.  

R: Yes – with literally thousands of families challenged with passing their forest and farms from one generation to the next, there needs to be a special statewide focus on helping to facilitate this smooth transition and find funding to expand the states capacity to place easements on the most critical of resource lands in the state. These are tough economic times for the state but I’m excited to join the efforts to find a permanent funding source for this program.

A: What else are you excited about?

R: Being gone from the state for a few years, what I’m seeing is an ever increasing pressure on the urban communities, trying to address livability, affordability, and sustainability is vital. Trying to find creative solutions is critical. I love complex challenges. Dealing with transportation issues, trail issues, climate driven connectivity issues has been part of my history. Housing is a new part of that, so I look forward to reconnecting with today’s thought leaders and listening carefully and learning from them and finding just the right niche for 1000 friends.

A: That’s great. We are really working hard to f

ind solutions to meet those housing and connectivity needs for Oregon cities and towns.  

R: Moving back to Portland means evicting my daughter, her husband, and our new granddaughter from our home here in Portland. Obviously, my wife and I decided to help them find a new home. That was an amazing eye opening journey to what’s happening in Portland. Affordability and equity in housing is at a crisis state. With mass shifts from historic renter-occupied communities to rapidly changing owner-occupied communities. The infill efforts are not keeping pace with demand and we are clearly not addressing the scale and scope of the homeless needs. I am impressed by the creativity of the 1000 Friends staff and Board. They have their finger on the pulse of what needs to be done now to ensure sustainable livability for everyone. There is a very real crunch in the market that are driving up housing costs - we need to get it in line - add more housing stock that people can afford. This challenge excites me.

A: This is a problem all over Oregon.

R: Yes, this is a statewide issue that needs a statewide commitment –count me in!

A: What is your big vision for Oregon’s land use future?

R: Let me get back to you after six months of statewide conversations. This is a precious time for me to listen. I can tell you I am extremely concerned about the impacts of climate change. It's vital that we design strategies that ensure that human communities and wildlife communities are not put at risk. We need to think about the health and welfare of our communities in a different way. We need to think about wildfire risks, future water supply, rapid change in forest conditions. I am pleased that Oregon continues to be on the forefront of forest resiliency investments.

A: A big part of the answer is managing how and where we grow as communities, and finding ways to preserve those natural spaces.

R: Affordable housing, housing for homeless, safe hiking and biking and commuting trails, equitable transit, energy efficiency, park and natural area expansion, real estate costs, transitions of land ownership - all of it – I believe in needs to be coalesced into a livability investment package for Oregon. These are the conversations I am excited to have. I see and feel a willingness in Oregonians to invest in those quality of life factors. We need a statewide conversation to find out how to invest in each of these precious aspects of Oregon, coming up with a strategy to meet those needs is the challenge of our time.

A: That’s a bold vision.

R: A long part of my career has been focused on these big long-term challenges and finding enduring solutions to meet these needs. It’s that kind of conversation that needs to happen - from transportation to housing, affordability to equity, generational conservation values to farm and ranch land management - all of it needs to be looked at in a bold and comprehensive manner. We need to be in lock step with the citizenry, either through the legislature or the people's vote. We need to find solutions to this big intersecting idea. And 1000 Friends needs to be in the forefront of those conversations. We all walked through Eden’s gate, we need to unite and decide if it’s worth investing in its future.

A: What connects you most to 1000 Friends work and mission?

R: My heart was really solidified when I worked with all the present and past directors of 1000 Friends and many, many partners to defend and protect the land use system after Measure 36 and during the campaign and passage of Measure 49. I vowed I would do all in my power to ensure that these land use laws would never be challenged like that again. It’s our obligation to pass from one generation to the next something that is truly unique. I feel an obligation to my core to use all my skills and knowledge to unite all Oregonians, and defend and protect the state’s land use system.

A: We are glad to have you on our side in this effort! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and giving a glimpse of your passions.

R: It’s my pleasure and my privilege to be a part of this work. Thanks for including me.