The award-winning OSU Land Steward Program has been operating in Jackson and Josephine Counties since 2009 as an 11-week field-based training program. The goal of the training is to encourage new or experienced landowners to adopt best management practices in a holistic, multi-disciplinary way, guiding them through a planning process, with technical assistance of professionals from local natural-resource agencies. Topics include woodlands, wildlife habitat, riparian systems, fire hazards, pastures, soil health, and rural water systems. The training empowers landowners to manage their own natural resources, and many of them then volunteer to become mentors of other students. After the conclusion of the regular classes, students are urged to schedule a property visit, during which the volunteer mentors and agency professionals offer advice on specific concerns.
The Land Steward Program has strong on-the-ground impacts. In follow-up surveys, 86% of respondents reported that they initiated or completed one or more natural-resource projects on their properties as a direct result of the program. Participants reported an average of more than five land-management improvement projects within six months of completing the training. The Land Steward Program keeps students engaged long after the class ends by creating a strong network of land stewards, offering monthly continuing-education programs, and through the support of local partner agencies.
A new hybrid Land Steward Program consists of nine online self-paced modules, designed to accommodate those who are not available to take a class during normal business hours. The instructor coordinates an introduction to the course and two field days on different weekends, to summarize the information of the modules. Topic experts from local agencies attend the field days to help deliver content and make connections with the landowners. The online modules guide participants to create a management plan for their properties. This hybrid model is adaptable to any region; several other Oregon counties have already adopted the program.