ROSEBURG, Ore. – Former Chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Wildlife Committee, the late Riley Freeman was a visionary. A man of action, he advocated partnerships between private landowners, hunters, and state and federal agencies concerned with natural resource management.
Although he could be critical of some of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s policies and practices, he recognized that the OCA and the agency needed to work together to not only build relationships but to ensure future generations could enjoy Oregon’s fish and wildlife.
During his tenure as chair of the OCA’s Wildlife Committee, Freeman was a proponent of the 1993 legislation that created Oregon’s Access and Habitat (A&H) Program that added a two-dollar increase to hunting licenses. This money is dedicated to increasing sportsmen access to public and private property and provides financial support for the Department to work with private landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat. Since 1993, the program has spent over $12.1 million of ODFW funds while matching $24.9 million from sportsmen groups, private landowners, federal and local governments.
In addition to his leadership in creating good working relationships between OCA and ODFW, Freeman was active in his community. A resident of Baker County, he taught at Blue Mountain Community College and taught livestock judging to future ranchers in local FFA and 4-H chapters. He was frequently a judge at local, county and state livestock shows and supervised a rodeo team for a number of years.
Freeman passed away in the fall of 1993, yet his legacy of the A&H Program, good ranch management stewardship and partnerships lives on.
In his memory, ODFW and OCA created the Riley Freeman Award to go to the person or couple who best exemplifies the concepts Freeman pioneered. He received the first award posthumously.
This year, OCA and ODFW presented the award to George and Cathy Sandberg of Roseburg. The Sandberg’s own a large ranch in the North Umpqua River Basin and lease several other ranches in the Douglas County area.
The Sandberg’s have always been big supporters of fish and wildlife programs, planting crops that benefit wildlife as well as their cattle operation. They have put up riparian fencing, off-channel watering devices and in-stream structures to improve riparian areas, enhance wildlife habitat and help with livestock distribution on their ranch.
“We’ve tried to show an environmental side to the ranching business that is a win-win in Douglas County for the rancher, the landowner and fish and wildlife,” Sandberg said. “We also bring this environmental ethic to the landowners we lease from, and they have supported projects on their land by contributing dollars or time and materials to restoration projects.”
In 1999, the Sandberg’s began a habitat restoration project on Clover Creek that flows into the North Umpqua River. They have enjoyed watching the tiny willows they planted nearly a decade ago grow into mature trees that shade the water and stabilize the stream bank. The project is a success and serves as a model for ranchers, landowners and natural resource agency representatives who can tour the area to see how ranching can be environmentally friendly.
In addition, the couple has completed a number of projects that enhance the Columbian White-tailed deer population on their ranch including tree plantings and upland work. This species was recently removed from both the federal and state endangered species lists.
The Sandberg’s have been very active in the Douglas County Livestock Association with George serving on the Board of Directors and in several officer positions. He has been instrumental in including Steve Denney, ODFW Southwest Regional Manager as a member of the Board of Directors to provide input on fish and wildlife issues.
Progressive livestock operators, the Sandberg’s have always recognized the needs of fish and wildlife on their land and have worked closely with ODFW as issues arise. The Sandberg’s provide a great example of how ranch management can benefit Oregon’s fish and wildlife.
Sandberg said his family is deeply honored to receive the Riley Freeman Award from their peers and ODFW. They will continue an environmental approach to managing the family ranch and hope future generations will realize how important that is to the environment and the ranching business.