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Streaked horned lark nestlings need healthy grasslands.
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On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

July 2011

Energy and persistence conquer all things. This quote of Ben Franklin’s comes to mind after talking to the people who shared their stories for this newsletter. Their dedication to putting effective projects and funding together shows what’s possible.


Tackling Juniper at the Watershed Level
Fish Surveyors Find Amphibians
Watershed Council Makes Friends, Saves Fish
Passion and Partners Return Birds to the Sky
Oregon Wolverine Research Project Update
New: How to Create Habitat for Grassland Birds

Before and After: Juniper removal in the Upper Burnt River Watershed has made a big difference on the landscape.
- ODFW Photos -
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Much of the juniper was cut with hand-held chain saws.
- ODFW Photos -
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Tackling Juniper at the Watershed Level

There isn’t a natural resource professional in Baker County who doesn’t want to get juniper out of sagebrush habitat. It degrades wildlife habitat, hogs water and creates a wildfire hazard. And, in fact, agencies, organizations and landowners have cut a lot of juniper out of the county over the years.

“In Baker County, we’re always talking about juniper,” said Nick Myatt, ODFW Acting Manager of the Grand Ronde Watershed District. “In 2009, a lot of us got together to see if we could be more strategic about it. Instead of each of us doing what we call Random Acts of Conservation Kindness, we decided to take a look at what it would take to make a landscape-level difference.”

The group decided to focus on the Upper Burnt River Watershed, located in southern Baker County, an area of conservation concern because it is traditional sage-grouse habitat, supports high density mule deer populations and provides winter range for elk. 

Laurie Owens, District Manager of the Burnt River Soil and Water Conservation District, worked to secure the funding. “The SWCD is really the hub of the wheel on these projects, but it takes an amazing group of partners to make it happen,” she said.

And, it’s a long list—National Resources Conservation Service, Baker County Weed Board, Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ODFW, private landowners, the Burnt River SWCD and others.

Securing funding took time, and the work will go on for a number of years, but in the end, Owens estimates, “We will have treated about 200,000 of the 300,000 acres in the Burnt River Watershed across public and private lands, including an area of urban interface.”

“We are definitely going to use this as a model going forward,” she said. “We learned a lot about how to implement a watershed-wide project, how to avoid duplication of efforts and how to make the best use of funds.”

When the project is complete, the partners will have spent about $3 million. Much of it came from the NRCS and the USDA-NRCS Collaborative Conservation Partnership Initiative and other partners. ODFW funding came from Access and Habitat and Upland Bird Stamp programs.

This work supports the Oregon Sage-Grouse Habitat Improvement Initiative and the priorities of the Oregon Conservation Strategy. Contact Nick. Contact Laurie.


Results for an innovative study that combined amphibian surveys with ongoing fish and aquatic habitat surveys are available online and will be of interest to those interested in amphibian conservation. The study took place in coastal and lower Columbia basins of western Oregon, in the Willamette Valley, and in the basin and range province of south central Oregon. The survey techniques were effective in reporting amphibian presence and the researchers have ideas on how to refine future surveys. See Amphibian Distribution in Wadeable Streams and Ponds in Western and Southeast Oregon, 2009-2010

watershed council makes friends, saves fish

When the International Port of Coos Bay purchased the Coos Bay Line of the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad in 2009, all Liz Vollmer-Buhl, Executive Director of the Siuslaw Watershed Council, could think about was fish.

juvenile salmonids
Juvenile salmonids are present below an impassible culvert near Mapleton. A new one is in design; construction will begin next year, depending on funding.
- SWC Photo -
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“It’s an old railroad. When it was laid down more than a century ago, fish passage was not on anyone’s mind,” said Vollmer-Buhl. “We knew we had problems with the old wooden culverts that ran under the tracks, but until the Port bought the rail line, we weren’t able to get in there and find out what had to be done.”

That summer, through a memorandum of understanding with the Port and a partnership with ODFW, the Council was able to put two ODFW interns on the ground to survey the miles of railway that run through the watershed. Fish passage barriers were mapped with GIS locations. Partners that included USFS, the BLM and ODFW helped prioritize barriers that needed to be replaced. High on the list is a culvert on Cleveland Creek that is slated for design, engineering and replacement. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Bureau is funding the initial work.
How was the Council able to respond so quickly to the opportunity presented by the Port’s acquisition of the railroad?

“We try and be on top of what is happening, in understanding what is going on in the watershed,” said Vollmer-Buhl. “We don’t focus on individual species; we look at overall watershed health. If we can restore water quality, aquatic passage, tidal wetlands, all of our native species benefit.”

To that end, years ago, the Council prioritized its basin to seventh field hydrologic units. They also worked with partners and contractors to have tidal wetlands in the Siuslaw River estuary mapped and prioritized to determine where they can get the biggest bang for their buck when restoring tidal wetlands.

And there is a lot of restoration going on in the Watershed. “We are very fortunate; we have great relationships with the landowners in our area. They often come to us with ideas for projects.”

The Council nurtures those relationships with regular outreach activities—education forums, programs for kids, an annual native plant giveaway, newsletters and speaker events. 

The Siuslaw Watershed Council is a community-based nonprofit organization that encourages and implements voluntary, non-regulatory practices, projects, and programs to promote stewardship of and enhance the natural resources of the Siuslaw River Watershed and the Coastal Lakes. Its mission: The SWC supports sound economic, social, and environmental uses of natural and human resources in the Siuslaw River Basin. The Council encourages cooperation among public and private entities to promote awareness and understanding of watershed functions by adopting and implementing a total watershed approach to natural resource management and production. Basin Prioritization Map. Contact Liz.

Lynn Tompkins
Lynn Tompkins, Director of Blue Mountain Wildlife, enjoys teaching children about raptors.
- ODFW Photo -
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Passion and Partners Return Birds to the Sky

If Lynn Tompkins has time for a vacation, it’s not in the summer. As Director of Blue Mountain Wildlife's rehabilitation and education programs, she finds there aren’t enough days in the week to get everything done she wants to do.

Located in Pendleton and licensed in both Oregon and Washington, Blue Mountain Wildlife receives injured and orphaned birds from a 50,000-square-mile area. It’s a situation that someone with less energy and passion than Tompkins would find impossible, but with the help of her small staff—one full time and one half time employee—two seasonal interns and a bevy of volunteers, she makes it work.

“I’ve been in this business for 23 years. It helps that my husband is on the staff,” she says with a smile in her voice. “I’ve learned how to find partners and work with people and so many respond to this work.”

Finding funding for the nonprofit organization which operates on donations, grants and fundraising events is always a challenge.

“Our focus on education helps make people aware of us and our work. Thousands of school children have learned about raptors through our programs,” she says. “We are also doing a lot of outreach right now to agricultural groups, trying to reduce the number of barn owls we get each year by encouraging farmers to put up nest boxes to get owls out of haystacks.”

With a goal of returning birds to their native habitats, Tompkins and team have an impressive record—their release rate will be 50 percent this year. Impressive because about half of the birds they receive are too badly injured to be rehabilitated and have to be euthanized. Many of these injuries are the result of collisions with vehicles, power lines, wind turbines, barbed-wire fences and windows. Illegal shooting also takes a toll on raptors.

“That’s why I do this work,” she says. “At some point, these birds have intersected with humans or human development. They aren’t dying of natural causes.”

Blue Mountain Wildlife staff depend on a number of partners. The Pendleton Veterinary Clinic donates a lot of time in caring for birds. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation uses its innovative free bus service to transport injured birds from La Grande or Walla Walla or the Tri-Cities or points in between. “We provide the cages and meet the bus,” says Tompkins. “People love to know they are riding with an owl or a hawk.”

Blue Mountain staff are also working with Veterinarian Dr. Jeff Cooney to research ingested lead poisoning in raptors. And then there is the new clinic Tompkins has in her sights. But right now, she’s off to have an osprey x-rayed.

Wildlife rehabilitators are individuals and organizations that care for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals with the goal of returning them to their native habitats. In Oregon, rehabilitators are licensed by ODFW. There are 101 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in the state; we will cover others in the future.

Blue Mountain Wildlife

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation bus service

A bait station and camera set up is designed to photograph the chest pattern of an animal for identification and to collect hair samples.
- Audrey Magoun Photo -
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One of three wolverines photographed by researchers in Wallowa County.
- Audrey Magoun Photo _
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On April 22, 2011, five days after discovering wolverine tracks in in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowa Mountains, researcher Audrey Magoun downloaded photos of two wolverines from a bait station camera, the first known photographs of the species in Oregon. A set of tracks discovered on April 17 was the first confirmation of a wolverine in Wallowa County, according to ODFW wildlife biologist Vic Coggins. The news generated a lot of interest among Oregonians and throughout the northwest.

The 2010 winter survey that resulted in the discovery has now been wrapped up. In June, all cameras and bait stations were picked up by the crew. Analysis shows that during the survey three different wolverines were photographed on six different cameras.

According to Magoun, two of the wolverines were verified as immature males and the third is a probable male. DNA analysis of hair samples indicates that one male is genetically related to wolverines in the Idaho-Montana population. Wolverine tracks were detected in the snow at seven locations during aerial track surveys, and researchers hope to continue the project in the winter of 2011-12 if funding is secured.  

Partners in the project include The Wolverine Foundation, Inc., USFS and ODFW. Magoun and Pat Valkenburg, her research partner and husband, donated the use of their personal airplane. Wolverine tracks confirmed in Wallowa County for first time . Trail camera records photos of two wolverines in Wallowa County.

New: How to Create Habitat for Grassland Birds

The new Willamette Valley Landowner’s Guide to Creating Habitat for Grassland Birds is available from ODFW. It has been updated to include current information on the habitat needs of grassland birds and provides resources to assist landowners interested in conserving and protecting native grassland habitats and their associated bird species. View online . Contact Ann Kreiger , ODFW Willamette Valley Grassland biologist, for a print copy.


On the Ground newsletter archives


The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a voluntary, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by ODFW with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands.


Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021

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