Sage-grouse summit

Participants in a panel discussion of community projects during Thursday’s opening day of the Sage-Grouse Conservation Partnership Summit, from left, are Lynn Larson, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Don Gonzales, Bureau of Land Management - Vale District; Extension Agent Sergio Arispe; and Linda Rowe, Malheur Soil and Water Conservation District. The summit continues today at Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario.

ONTARIO — The Sage-Grouse Conservation Partnership Summit opened Thursday with reports of what is good happening in Malheur County and the surrounding area as far as enhancing Sage Grouse Habitat and protecting the species.

The SageCon Partnership is a consortium of public (federal, state and local government agencies) and private natural resource agencies, ranchers and other land users, environmentalists, conservations and other interested parties.

This is the third summit of the group and the first time meeting in Ontario, which was being held Thursday and today at Four Rivers Cultural Center, bringing in people from throughout Oregon.

In opening remarks welcoming the group, state Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said with about 2.2 million acres of sage grouse habitat in Malheur County, “every decision on sage grouse affects what you do.”

Thursday’s discussion began with local public agency representatives talking about their efforts to protect and restore habitat in Malheur County, on public and private land.

Linda Rowe, manager of the Malheur Soil and Water Conservation District, said that more than 50,000 acres have been cleared of juniper in projects which the district has been involved in. Juniper takes up a lot of water, outcompeting such species as sagebrush, which is essential to survival of the sage grouse.

Her agency has sponsored fencing projects to protect riparian areas and habitat and has been involved in reseeding areas that have been burned over, by wildfires.

Sergio Arispe, Oregon State University Extension Agent, said he has been working on a project to help develop mapping of ecosystems and sage grouse habitat which will allow people to develop rangeland management plans and objectives. It would be a tool to help determine the state of range land, Arispe said.

He is also doing research on conservation measures for controlling invasive species (fine fuels) which provide fuels for wildland fires. Those fires are one of the top threats to sage grouse habitat.

Controlling fires is one of the major focuses on protecting habitat, and the formation of Rangeland Fire Protection Associations has proved its worth, said Marvin Vetter, with Oregon Department of Forestry. The department protects areas not included in other fire protection districts.

Vetter noted that while the number of fires during this last season was about the same as in past years, most did not make headlines as they were put out before they got very big.

The first of the Fire Protection Associations, involving ranchers, was created in 1964 at Ironside and the next one was not formed until the late 1990s.

Landowners and others receive training and equipment to spot and respond to wildfires in conjunction with the public land agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management.

Rancher Bob Skinner, who is involved with the Jordan Valley Rangeland Protection Association, said there is now a lot of cooperation between the ranchers and the BLM.

“We could not do what we do without the BLM,” Skinner said. “We compliment them and they compliment us.”

“We are sharing everything in the heat of battle,” Skinner said.

He added that the aerial support provided by the BLM is a major contribution of the success of controlling fires.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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