OWEB Invests In Harney Basin Wetlands Initiative.
On Tuesday January 27 2016, The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) recognized the diverse Harney Basin Wetland Initiative Partnership with a $1.6 million Focused Investment Partnership grant to improve habitat values and water quality at Malhuer Lake, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding ranchlands. The Harney Basin Wetlands Initiative includes ranchers and farmers, the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, conservation groups and many other stakeholders who have been working together since 2011 to develop a positive, collaborative path forward at Malheur and on the surrounding landscape.
For The Wetlands Conservancy, the relationship solidified when four ranchers invited me to talk with them about flood irrigation in the hope we might have a common vision. Flood irrigation, which is commonly used on private ranchlands in Harney County, is a method of irrigating crops where water is pumped or brought to the fields and allowed to flow across the ground. It only took a few minutes to find a common appreciation of the benefits that spring flood irrigation provides to both ranching operations and the millions of water birds that stop, feed and rest on their migration north. Harney Basin wetlands and Malheur Lake are among the most important places on the continent for migratory birds, supporting more than 320 species of birds.
With success on the first topic, we cautiously dug a little deeper and explored other shared views. After sharing stories, jokes and occasional ribbing, (after all, they are ranchers from Eastern Oregon and I am a conservationist from the Willamette Valley) we recognized a shared love, awe and respect for the landforms, wetlands, water, birds, wildlife and human inhabitants of the Harney Basin. This shared respect for the land and the value it brings to the people and wildlife led to brainstorming some wetland and water system restoration and enhancements ideas and projects. Several weeks later, we took some of our new ideas and common visions back to the diverse group of partners who had been working together since 2009 on a collaborative Malheur Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). Very quickly we recognized that through the CCP process, we had all learned to listen to one another, more clearly identify our commonalities, more respectfully share and discuss our differences and forge new ideas and solutions.
In parallel with the CCP process and the birth of the Harney Basin Wetlands Initiative, there were days spent in the field, ranch visits, phone calls and burgers, beer and bourbon at The Pine Room. Through the years of the CCP process the partners have created a new language that supports our common visions. Gary Marshall Harney County rancher and collaborator sums it up well. “The result of this effort goes far beyond the measurable benefits to the resources. There are now lasting relationships, built on trust, which will make some truly great things possible here in Harney County.”
The infusion of resources from OWEB is re-energizing all of the partners’ passion and commitment to our common vision. We are excited to roll up our sleeves and begin the next chapter of on-the-ground lake and wetland enhancement and improvement projects that will improve both the ecological health of the landscape and the rural economy of Harney County.
-Esther Lev, Executive Director, The Wetlands Conservancy