Wild Mountain Nation
A partnership protecting Oregon's beautiful native wildlife.
story by Christina Lilienthal
photo by Lyla Duncan
Just past the Painted Hills in Oregon's John Day Basin, there's a picture-perfect view of an old farmstead with a field adorned by bright yellow sunflowers. These days it's hard to imagine that this beautiful plot was once overrun by knapweed, cheat grass, and medusahead - noxious weeds of the west. But a long-term partnership between the BLM and the community that uses these lands have joined forces to create locally-sustained farmlands.
In 1992, a large land exchange provided the BLM's Prineville District with a number of former agricultural lands - the type of terrain that's highly susceptible to noxious weeds if left unattended. Following this exchange, the BLM initially launched a program to farm this area to maintain its ecological health. But after several successful years, BLM biologist Don Zalunardo began thinking these fields might benefit from a more community-based approach that would include folks who regularly use and have a personal stake in their public lands.
Enter the Redmond Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) and the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation (QUWF). Don and his cohorts from the BLM first contacted members from these groups to discuss a plan that would manage noxious weeds through a carefully designed conversion to forage and cover crops made available year round for wildlife such as deer, elk, birds, and small animals.
The Big Field
OHA Treasurer John Crafton says everyone agreed the first goal was to rid the area of noxious weeds followed by planting native grasses. The operation was financed through grant funds and the BLM's Prineville District with the OHA and QUWF supplying all labor. For example, a long weekend in May of 2010 saw volunteers generously giving almost 1,300 hours of hard work to plant 300 shrubs alongside three full fields of food across 15 acres. Volunteers then laid 600 pieces of pipe to irrigate the crops. And not least, two miles of fences were converted from old barbed wire to a new type of fence that has a smoother, more wildlife-friendly structure. And after the initial work was complete, volunteers came out regularly to water and farm the fields.
One major outcome of this effort according to Mr. Crafton is "...if we can draw the wildlife to our field and keep them out of the private ranchers' fields, the animals will benefit and the ranchers will be happy not to have field damage." Board member Tim Van Domelen added, 'Being a hunter, it's an opportunity to give back to wildlife." He continued, 'In the high desert canyon lands, which reflect millions of years of erosive action, the green oasis of a wildlife plot is a valuable asset. It could mean the difference of herds making it through the winter and a healthy big game calf crop in the spring."
To those who have seen these community members come together and participate in such an ambitious effort, all agree it's an incredible sight. Weekend work parties are planned to include entire families who camp overnight to recreate and socialize in an atmosphere of hard work and giving. Days are spent planting wild roses or picking up irrigation pipe from fields. Folks walk through tall sunflower plants, pipe held high above their heads. Then nights after the work is done, volunteers gather for a steak barbecue over conversation about their lives, their work, and their land. And so it has come to be in this partnership between the BLM and the communities who live and work and play here, all find that their vision does indeed preserve the health of this natural landscape and its native wildlife for many generations to come.
For more info on this special area, check out Oregon's John Day Basin.