Deer Creek Center History
Photo by Dan Mancuso
Siskiyou Field Institute, formerly known as Deer Creek Center, is a facility for field research and education located in the heart of the biologically-diverse Klamath-Siskiyou region of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. The Klamath-Siskiyou region contains a remarkable number of plant species (estimated to be over 3,500), including exceptional conifer diversity, and was named an area of ‘global botanical significance’ by the World Conservation Union.
Southern Oregon University Foundation (SOUF) and the Siskiyou Field Institute (SFI) began a formal facility partnership in February 2004 and entered a formal agreement to form a new non-profit organization, The Deer Creek Center for Field Research and Education (DCC) in February 2006. DCC’s mission was established to provide educational opportunities and promote scientific research for students, researchers and the public through the ownership, restoration and management of the Deer Creek Center property. A $3 million commitment was made by a private donor toward the purchase and an endowment for the facility, in addition to $500,000 provided by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. In May 2006, Western Rivers Conservancy purchased the property for $2.5 million on behalf of the SOU/SFI partnership , and SOU and SFI took possession of the property through a lease and property transfer agreement with Western Rivers Conservancy. Western Rivers Conservancy transferred of title of the property to DCC as soon as DCC meets certain planning, development, and fundraising benchmarks had been met. A grant of $720,000 plus additional grants totaling over $350,000 assisted in site planning and preparation, significant renovations to the existing 6000 square foot main residence (deferred maintenance, site preparation and clearing, site planning), and construction of a solar powered bathhouse, two yurts, and an outdoor pavilion.Major funders included the Murdock Charitable Trust for $250K, the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation for $35K, the Collins Foundation for $30K, and $25K from the USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative awarded to the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization.
In 2014, the Southern Oregon University Foundation bowed out of its partnership with Siskiyou Field Institute in operating Deer Creek Center. Sole title of the property was transferred to Siskiyou Field Institute and the separate non-profit known as DCC was dissolved.
Located on the northern tip of one of the world’s largest contiguous sheets of ultramafic parent rock (i.e., serpentine), the property hosts representative serpentine plant communities, such as Jeffrey pine savanna, serpentine barrens, and fens dominated by the carnivorous pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica). Rare plant occurrences are numerous in adjacent public lands; the US Forest Service (USFS) has designated two botanical areas within a few kilometers of the station. Detailed plant surveys found occurrences of rare plants on the property itself. Botanist Keir Morse researched plant species on the DCC property for his Master's thesis and his collection became the basis for our herbarium.
The property has two year-round creeks that include habitat for coho salmon, fall
chinook, Pacific lamprey, winter steelhead, cutthroat trout, redside shiner, speckled dace, suckerfish, and sculpin. It is an ideal laboratory classroom for studying serpentine and riparian ecology. The location of Siskiyou Field Institute provides excellent access to research sites and teaching locations. The land is surrounded by public lands, bordered by a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and by the USFS Squaw Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. Four wilderness areas are within two hour drives from the station: the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, the Siskiyou Wilderness, the Red Buttes Wilderness, and the Wild Rogue Wilderness. The Pacific Coast is 1.5 hour drive from the station. The property sits directly on the edge of the 2002 Biscuit Fire, a 200,000 half acre fire that was one of the West’s largest recorded fires. Half of the northern parcel was burned in the fire and provides examples of mixed severity fire. This will become a demonstration site for studies of post-fire recovery.
The property adjoins Deer Creek, the largest tributary to the Illinois River, a designated Wild and Scenic River. The property, Deer Creek Ranch, is rich in cultural history. Historically, it was a gathering place for neighboring native American tribes and became one of the first ranches settled by European immigrants in the Illinois Valley of southwestern Oregon. The ranch was often visited by Hollywood cowboy icon, John Wayne. Because of this history, the name Deer Creek Ranch has been preserved.
Deer Creek Ranch features a main parcel containing 190 ha. Approximately 7 ha of this tract includes a main residence, a secondary residence, and three outbuildings. Approximately 80 ha of the main parcel contain irrigated hay fields. The 560 m2 main residence has four bedroom/bathroom suites, a large upstairs dorm-style bedroom, a downstairs living space with bathroom, a large hostel-style kitchen, open living/dining space, additional bathroom and laundry facilities, and a 10m x 15m classroom. Visitors are housed in the main residence or allowed to camp on the property; a caretaker is on site full time. In the last three years, the new additions have enhanced the site: a solar powered bathhouse, an outdoor pavilion, and two yurts (walled tents) provide additional student housing and facilities.
Approximately 300 meters NNE of the main tract is an additional 160 ha “in-holding” parcel surrounded by BLM lands that includes a significant portion of the Squaw Creek* watershed. This tract includes native grasslands, oak woodlands, Jeffrey pine forests and an area burned during the Biscuit Fire of 2002.
Siskiyou Field Institute
SFI began offering science-based field courses to adults, families, and youth in 1998. Since then, it has become a leader in the development of science-based educational programs in the field and schools. SFI partners with local, state and federal organizations in its educational progamming. SFI instructors from academia, federal agencies, and the local community lead programs ranging from half-day workshops to multi-day courses into remote areas of the region. Today, SFI offers over 30 field-based recreational and educational experiences plus youth programs that serve over 2000 people each year.
The mission of the Siskiyou Field Institute is to increase the understanding of, and connection to the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion through education, scientific research, and public engagement.
* Squaw Creek name is in the process of change through state and federal agencies.