CORVALLIS - Dick and Virginia Wilkinson of Heppner are among the 28 men and women who were recently honored as 1998 Diamond Pioneers by the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences.
The Diamond Pioneer Registry, started when the college observed its 75th anniversary, honors those 75 and older for their contributions to agriculture and natural resources.
The Wilkinsons, operating the ranch started by his parents about 1920, were cited both for their ranching operations and their work in preserving the natural environment. The diversified operation is primarily a cow-calf business, but also includes haying, wildlife management, and logging.
They have implemented several conservation strategies over the years that include a major program in 1993 to install a watering system on the Justice place on Hinton Creek. A well supplies water to 17 strategically located water troughs that disperse grazing and protect the riparian zone. They have also cross-fenced the ranch to better control grazing levels, and the carrying capacity of the rangeland has increased by a third because short duration grazing allows range to recover quickly and prevents overuse.
Working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, they installed a fish screen to keep fish out of an irrigation canal. Also in cooperation with the state agency, they allow controlled hunting on their ranch while restricting vehicle traffic to prevent the spread of weeds, reduce fire hazard and prevent gates from being left open.
The couple's work earned them the Fish and Wildlife's "Landowner of the Year" award in 1994. In 1997, they won the Conservation Farm of the Year award.