ASLA Oregon LANDbytes JUNE 2012 Feature:
Teaching Meets Practice in Willamette Valley Wetlands
By Logan Bingle
As a young profession, Landscape Architecture has a long tradition of teaching practitioners. With a small body of practitioners compared to older professions, such as architecture or law, this has been a practical necessity to educate the next generation of landscape architects. At the University of Oregon, the adjunct faculty continues to bringing innovations in the field of landscape architecture to the next generation of landscape architects. I recently took the time to sit down with Ryan Ruggiero who teaches a technical class on wetland standards, regulations and conservation while also working for the McKenzie River Trust to preserve special places in the watersheds of Western Oregon.
Ryan Ruggiero graduated from the University of Oregon in 2003 with a Masters of Landscape Architecture. While working for Vigil-Agrimis, Ryan found he had to teach himself about wetland management and conservation standards and regulations. Ryan felt that this was a gap in his education that was becoming an increasing concern for practicing landscape architects. In 2008, Ryan returned to Eugene to bring this knowledge to the McKenzie River Trust.
The McKenzie River Trust was established in 1989 to protect special places in the McKenzie River Basin. The McKenzie River Trust defines special places as areas with regional significance, wildlife habitat, endangered species, or recreational importance. In 2000, the Trust expanded its mission to include the Long Tom River, the Upper, Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette, the Umpqua watershed, the Siuslaw, and coastal streams and lakes. Ryan’s primary responsibility for the Trust is to find these special places and conserve them through the purchase of land and easements. The McKenzie River Trust currently owns and manages 1,600 acres of property in Western Oregon and 1,700 acres of easements.
With his return to Eugene, Ryan also felt a desire to pass on his knowledge of wetland standards and regulations to landscape architecture students at the University of Oregon. He currently teaches two technical topic classes on wetlands. One is an introduction to wetland standards and regulations while the second dives into the implications of wetland policies on land owners and trusts.
Ryan recently finished teaching his introductory class during the spring term. This class focuses on two areas of knowledge that landscape architects need to know when working with wetlands. First is the legal definition of a wetland based on soils, hydrology and vegetation. During two field trips, students learn to identify wetland areas based on these attributes via visual analysis and field testing. In addition, the class covers basic wetland standards and regulations.
This term students got the chance to practice these identifying wetlands at the McKenzie River Trust’s most recent purchase, the Coyote Spencer Wetlands. The McKenzie River Trust purchased the Coyote Spencer Wetlands this past winter with grants from the State of Oregon and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The wetland sits at the confluence of Coyote and Spencer Creeks before flowing into the Fern Ridge Reservoir outside of Eugene. The property covers 161 acres and is the drainage point for a 63,000 acre basin. One endangered species has been confirmed on the property with five to six other endangered species possible. The trust is beginning management activities this summer to protect the property’s endangered species, wildlife and water quality.
Ryan also teaches a class on conservation real estate, which dives into the implications of regional and state land planning regulation. The class begins by considering the environmental assets and hazards that land owners and trusts must evaluate on their land. Ryan provided the example of death taxes as a hazard many farming families face in the Willamette Valley as their land passes from generation to generation. Once these hazards and assets have been identified, the class considers how land trusts and owners can manage their land to mitigate their hazards and optimize their assets.
Ryan plans to keep teaching at the University of Oregon Landscape Architecture Department. Besides filling a knowledge gap in the field of landscape architect, Ryan finds teaching very rewarding. Ryan also feels his teaching helps to build the next generation of landscape architects who will lead conservation efforts in Oregon. By uniting landscape architecture and land conservation through practice and teaching, Ryan Ruggiero is bringing a new dimension to landscape architecture that promises to enrich the field with innovative thinking and ideas.