American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Professional Awards
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A view of the property looking south across the semi-arid landscape with the ridge of the Steens Mountain to the right.

The Ranch Master Plan illustrates agricultural uses, waterways, roadways, and building sites. Agricultural activities are consolidated to the east side of Wildhorse Creek to contain grazing operations and create opportunities for native restoration.

A thorough analysis of the land describes the intrinsic qualities of each place within the property, past alterations, localized ecosystems, and opportunities for future use. Each zone, as indicated on the analysis map, was the subject of inventory, analysis, and ultimately master planning efforts.

Planning and design solutions evolved from a detailed exploration of the land. An inventory and analysis of existing water systems informed future design decisions.

This diagram provides a master plan for restoration and enhancement of abandoned floodway corridors indicating ideal locations for fast moving streams, deep ponds, shallow ponds, high prairie marshes, marshes, and slow moving streams.

An understanding of both current and historic water patterns allowed for restoration of lost riparian zones. The Pond and Waterway Enlargement includes grading information and a color coded plan which references specific detailed cross-sections to guide re-establishment of historic conditions.

A series of cross-sections provides the information required to construct a given waterway type including water elevation, bank conditions (grading defined in inches above/below water level), vegetation appropriate for each zone, and wildlife that would be compatible within that ecosystem.

In developing every product for this project, we were mindful of our client's background - his lifelong attachment to this property and his love for art. Slides 8 & 9 consider different ways of presenting information. The first, traditional in format, depicts the site plan in a clear, pragmatic manner.

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Wildhorse Ranch, Steens Mountain, Oregon
DHM Design, Carbondale, Colorado

"The landscape architect had a light touch and developed a sensitive plan for conserving and preserving the nature of this landscape. It's so beautiful and feels very intuitive. The project statement and presentation are quite powerful and complete."

— 2007 Professional Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement

As ranching and agricultural properties in the western United States face increasing pressure for development, there is a significant role for consultants who work with these landowners. The opportunity to maintain and even enhance these private holdings can help to preserve the regional landscape. An appropriate land management program can render a private land holding just as beneficial to the long-term health of a regional ecosystem as a public holding; we would maintain that this is an example of sustainability in the broadest sense of the word.

Wildhorse Ranch is adjacent to the Steens Mountain Wilderness in southeastern Oregon, contained by descending ridges of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert, and bisected by Wildhorse Creek. The ranch represents a significant private ownership within the Great Basin Ranching territory and lies within the Pacific Flyway, thirty miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. As stewards of the land, the current owners and the consultant team have been engaged in a dialogue about balance, looking for land management solutions that are ecologically sustainable and culturally appropriate and yet still supportive of on-going ranching operations. This mindset offers an opportunity to implement an effective ranch management program; restore native habitat; and integrate a building program that considers the context of both the cultural and the natural landscape.

The current owner of Wildhorse Ranch developed a love for this land as a young man, walking its hills and valleys. His history with the region and appreciation for the land provided a mandate for the consultant team to design with respect for the land and to intervene appropriately with the knowledge that these interventions would have lasting benefit. His valued art collection is an indication of his interests, and reflects an interpretation of the natural landscape and wildlife, from the conceptual and contemporary to the representational and centuries old. His art collection analyzes, interprets, and reveals the world around him. His wish is that his ranch does the same.

With the above objectives in mind, the consultant team looked to the region and the land itself for guidance. Often the inventory and analysis phase of a project is overlooked or rushed in search of solutions, but the ultimate success of this project lies in the patience afforded these efforts. In every case, the planning and design solutions for Wildhorse Ranch evolved from the combination of understanding good regional ranches (those which have withstood the test of time) and the specific knowledge derived from a thorough exploration of the land. A comprehensive analysis of the land provided insight into the intrinsic qualities of each place within the ranch property, past alterations, localized ecosystems, and opportunities for future use. Tours of large ranches in the region began to shed light on ways of planning and designing that were not only appropriate but of lasting quality.

This analysis was expressed throughout the ranch master planning effort and ultimately in the development of the design concepts and solutions, and even in the graphic portrayal of these items. The analysis, planning, and design for the ranch can best be discussed in three categories: the ranch management program, restoration of native habitat, and placemaking. An unwavering commitment to design solutions that are appropriate and sustainable has guided and will continue to guide every phase of implementation and ensure that Wildhorse Ranch leaves a lasting legacy.

The Ranch Management Program: Ranchlands in this semi-arid environment have been grazed for over 100 years. Coupled with inefficient irrigation practices, the result has led to significant disturbance and degradation to the land. Wildhorse Ranch offered an opportunity to address grazing operations in a manner that would be more sustainable. An understanding of the principles of holistic ranch management coupled with an in-depth analysis of this property allowed the consultant team to define areas for agricultural use and areas for restoration of native habitat. Active management of the livestock (rotational grazing) would allow for grazing to be focused on those portions of the land most accepting of high intensity usage. With a more defined agricultural activity zone, we could then define and implement proper irrigation techniques and grazing activities could be moved out of erosive zones. A by-product of this approach was that the entire ranch no longer needed to be fenced; fencing was only required around the much smaller agricultural zone and could be designed either to disappear or as a feature within the landscape. With agriculture activities defined, restoration of steppe grasslands and native habitat was now possible. Grazing outside fenced areas need only occur in the spring in an effort to manage the invasive cheatgrass, allowing native grasses to naturally reestablish and eventually flourish.

Restoration of Native Habitat: Water is certainly precious in this semi-arid environment and an understanding of both current and historic water patterns has allowed for restoration of lost riparian zones and development of more efficient irrigation in the agricultural zone. Early settlers harnessed water from the creek and from a naturally occurring spring on the property for agricultural purposes, thereby altering the historic drainage patterns. They diverted water out of Wildhorse Creek into manmade irrigation channels which caused once active stream braids to stop flowing. These historic braids remain evident in the landscape today marked by sage covered channels and huge decaying cottonwood stumps. The ranch’s current manmade irrigation channels were not properly maintained and were not efficient for balanced irrigation of large pieces of land. Further analysis found that a more efficient irrigation system could be provided by restoring the historic braided channels. With water flowing once again through the stream braids, small reservoirs could be created for irrigation use, and then distributed appropriately throughout the agricultural zones. These water bodies create a logical, uphill boundary for the agricultural activities while Wildhorse Creek, which bisects the property, serves as an obvious downhill boundary for the edge of this zone. The reintroduction of water into these channels provides an opportunity to not only restore but also to enhance the property’s riparian habitat.

Species occurrence data from GIS mapping provided an understanding of significant indicator species for this area and guided decisions with regard to habitat restoration. An analysis of the historic drainage channels exposed opportunities to develop a variety of distinct water bodies. Steep gradients (over 2 percent) typical of the northern half of the historic watercourses are optimal for fast moving streams; lesser gradients (less than 2 percent) are ideal for slow moving streams. Within these two zones, there exists a variety of opportunities for riparian habitat. Floodplains and sandbar deposits are ideal roosts for birds feeding on the water’s abundant insect life. Existing depressions provide natural locations for ponds of varying size, depth, and bank conditions. Undercut banks, steep banks, and gradual banks each create habitat for invertebrates, and fish, and birds who feed on the insects that live in the sedges and rushes. The open water of a pond is an invitation to migrating waterfowl. Relatively level areas are optimal for development into meadow marsh, shallow marsh and deepwater marshes. Marsh habitat attracts small mammals, frogs, egrets, cranes, herons and other migratory birds. Mature and dead cottonwood trees in these areas provide roosts for raptors that depend on marsh habitat for hunting.

This dramatic increase in habitat was a wish of the owners and is consistent with habitat that might have existed historically on the ranch. Given the migratory patterns of wildlife and waterfowl within the region, these improvements should encourage a variety of species that likely once lived on the ranch to return. The consultant team created cross-sections of six different water bodies, indicating the distinct characteristics and potential habitat of each. The cross-sections are a tool to guide restoration of these channels in both design and construction.

Placemaking: The design for the ranch focused on three considerations: 1) how it would be integrated within this special landscape; 2) how it would be experienced; and 3) how it would be occupied. A series of studies were explored in an effort to achieve a natural settlement, both in program allocation and site distribution. Existing and potential building locations were evaluated in combination with an understanding of cultural building patterns in the Great Basin. A working ranch requires a barn and a variety of out buildings along with access to each of the building sites; the family requires living quarters; and all must be evaluated within the context of the landscape.

The master plan considered the building program and vehicular circulation in a holistic and integrated manner. A traditional source of pride on a ranch is its barn and accompanying corrals. A new barn structure flanked by out buildings is located at the terminus of the public roadway. Buildings are clustered to create a central courtyard with commanding views up the Wildhorse valley into the Steens wilderness and down the valley and across the irrigated fields to the expansive landscape below. The courtyard, as found on other regional ranches, is not only functional but has a social importance as well. All of the day-to-day ranching operations are accommodated while also providing a community gathering spot, a place for neighboring ranchers and townsfolk to meet and greet.

The primary residence is located on a sage covered gentle slope above the waterways and pastures within walking distance of the barn. Careful review of homes located in exposed environments throughout the region taught us to use both aspect and vegetation when building. Consequently, the home will open to the north into an historic orchard which will provide shade during hot summer months and serve as protection from the winter winds. An outdoor living space to the south of the home will allow for southern sun during cooler months and spectacular views of the agricultural lands as well as down the valley.

Regional ranch buildings informed design decisions and directions. Buildings, corrals, and fencing are all derived from this contextual understanding. As proposed, new construction is traditional in form, tied directly to function, and grounded in a philosophy that structures should carefully occupy the landscape. Construction utilizes indigenous approaches to building, where materials, crafts, and solutions are available. Local stone and local masonry construction techniques provide a durable, handsome, and efficient means to continue a regional and sustainable architecture.

In the end, our initial inventory and analysis informed and guided every subsequent decision from master planning through design and ultimately into construction. We have studied the soil of the place understanding its natural vegetation, structure, slope, and drainage. We have observed the order and patterns of the cultural landscape. Working in concert with the owner and the land in its broadest context, we hope that the proposed strategy for improving the overall health of Wildhorse Ranch provides a lasting legacy for both the ranch and the region, one that is both appropriate and sustainable.

Project Resources

Site Planner & Landscape Architect:
DHM Design
Dave Carpenter, Jason Jaynes, Charlie Kees, Laura Kirk, and Stephanie Kobald

Artist and Project Manager:
Tad Savinar

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership - Architecture/Planning/Interior Design, Greg Baldwin, Jerry Waters, Mark Foster, Jerome Unterreiner, John Breshears, Jim Gomez, and Ron Stewart

Ellsperman Ecological Services
Stephen Ellsperman


The second is the identical site plan rendered with images from the site and inspired by the character and style of our client's valued art collection. This graphic style allowed us to communicate our full appreciation for the land while stimulating discussion with the owner.

This semi-arid environment and it's scarcity of building materials requires inventive building solutions. Through careful observation, we documented the ways in which ranchers creatively built fences, buildings, and other structures when native and regional materials were their only choices.

The consultant team created guidelines for building with the indigenous materials, determining material choices and construction details which were sustainable, functional, and beautiful.

Design details for fencing, gates, and corrals were created as an outgrowth from our analysis studies. This ranch wall and gate study was inspired by rock cribs found in the Great Basin and could be constructed with materials found on site.

Tours of large ranches in the region began to shed light on ways of planning and designing that were not only appropriate and functional but of lasting quality.

The site plan locates the barn complex and out buildings, roadways, and residential quarters. This layout responds to the land itself and to the cultural vocabulary of the regional ranching heritage, while integrating progressive, efficien,t and sustainable practices into the design solution.

A new barn structure flanked by out buildings is located at the terminus of the public roadway. This study model shows buildings clustered around an existing row of poplars to create a central courtyard with commanding views up and down the valley and across the irrigated fields to the expansive landscape below.

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