A Little History…

The high country ranch in southern Oregon’s Cascades appeared deserted when Suzanne Willow, Lanita Witt and their daughter Brooke first saw it, covered by 4 feet of snow in December 1984. The next month they discovered it was for sale…and 10 times the acreage they were seeking.

They purchased the 445-acre ranch at 5000 feet elevation in January 1985 and have been restoring forests, wetlands, wildlife habitat, and farming organically on the unique ecosystem for 34 years.

From the beginning, the family planned to conserve and protect the land they loved, and Lanita and Suzanne planned to be buried there, an easy step for family-owned property. Over the years they buried dogs, cats, goats, two horses and occasional chickens in the farm yard and gardens, and had chosen final resting sites for themselves.

Pat Gordon had found her own forested nirvana and, like Willow and Witt, had planned to be buried on the land she loved. When Pat could no longer work on her forested property, she sold it to a like-minded couple who agreed that her burial site would remain intact; unfortunately, the couple sold the property after two years, putting Pat’s final-resting-place plans in jeopardy. Pat approached Lanita and Suzanne about the possibility of being buried on their property while Witt and Willow had been simultaneously exploring development of a cemetery as a path for conservation.

The natural (‘green’) burial movement began in the 1990’s and has gained popularity and momentum as more people contemplate their relationship to the earth and how their choices at death affect the natural environment and climate change.

The Forest Conservation Burial Ground on Willow-Witt Ranch near Ashland, Oregon was approved in 2020 by Jackson County and licensed by the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board as Oregon’s first dedicated ‘natural’ cemetery. We are in the process of becoming a certified natural burial ground with the Green Burial Council.

The natural (‘green’) burial movement began in the 1990’s and has gained popularity and momentum as more people contemplate their relationship to the earth and how their choices at death affect the natural environment and climate change.

Burial containers in natural or ‘green’ cemeteries are fully biodegradable, often simple shrouds or pine, willow or cardboard boxes. Natural burials do not involve embalming, concrete liners, metals, exotic woods, plastics, or any non-biodegradable containers.

Some traditional cemeteries allow ‘green’ burial as an option in an otherwise ‘unnatural’ environment; a conservation cemetery is dedicated to retaining and supporting the natural flora and fauna and to improving wildlife habitat.

Lee Webster, a long-time green burial advocate, writes,

“Conservation is about people needing and caring for land.  They’re going to conduct life-affirming activities: Getting married there, baptisms, confirmations, bird-watching, hiking, family picnics–all kinds of things are happening in these spaces because they’re conservation spaces first.  That’s the value of it.  It’s not just that we’re going to put people in the ground without concrete.  It’s about the big picture and how it affects people, the way we relate to death but also the way we relate to each other in life.”

The Forest has been developed to conserve the lands of Willow-Witt Ranch, now a private in-holding in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Conservation of the unique natural landscape is enhanced by the minimal development needed for burials, paths and trails. Long term covenants or deed restrictions ensure conservation values for the entire property are retained.

Willow and Witt formed an educational nonprofit in 2017, The Crest at Willow Witt, to offer outdoor school, camps, and programs for people of all ages to study the connections between humans and the natural world, beginning with the first people to live on the land thousands of years ago. They see The Forest Conservation Burial Ground as an extension of this connection and another way of caring for the land.

The Forest
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This facility is licensed and regulated by the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board (971) 673-1500.
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The Forest Conservation Burial Ground
658 Shale City Road
Ashland, OR 97520
(541) 625-9697
info@theforestconservationburial.org