The Big Payback Oregon/Washington BLM



The Big Payback

Landscape Level Conservation:
A Partnership-Based Success!

story by Tara Martinak
photos by Matt Christenson

Landscape level conservation is no longer just a big idea, too complicated to comprehend. It's here and now and more important than ever.

So when it comes to organizing plans that take into account all the social, economic, and ecological connections between private and public lands, landscape level conservation is of vital importance and growing popular interest.

In fact, a quick Google search retrieves over a million pages from authors around the world who are either planning or implementing large-scale conservation projects that focus on protecting and preserving land across all physical and administrative boundaries.

So what's the BLM doing about landscape level conservation?

Enter the Five Creeks Rangeland Restoration Project in the BLM's Burns District in southeast Oregon...

On the north side of nearby Steens Mountain, an ambitious ecosystem restoration effort is currently underway. The Five Creeks project covers nearly 75,000 acres of public and private land. Its goals are to restore sagebrush steppe and riparian plant communities and to create conditions to protect natural wildlife, wild horses, fish, and livestock.

Five Creeks is the culmination of 6 private landowners/permittees, 5 cooperating agencies, 4 strutting birds, 3 main concerns over juniper expansion on our rangelands, 2 eager project leads, and 1 need for action. (If you didn't already catch it, sage-grouse are the "strutting birds." And while they do exist in the project area, I shamelessly referenced them solely to keep the song in order. ("What? No Partridge in a Pear Tree?" - Ed.)


The Big Payback
photo by Matt Christenson

Lisa Grant, project co-lead, states, "Juniper expansion on our rangelands is adversely affecting forage availability, soil stability, and overall watershed health." So taking inspiration from previous successes in treating juniper with natural and prescribed fire, the BLM already had a management mechanism in place to address this issue, although at a much smaller scale. Next came the wager for support from project area landowners and permittees. Fortunately their cooperation came easy thanks to all the informed participants who understand the seriousness of juniper expansion as well as support the use of fire to treat the problem.

Permittees and landowners have stepped forward to allow the use of their private roads for access to the project area by BLM officials. More importantly, they are generously adjusting their operations for several years to provide the necessary rest from livestock grazing prior to and following prescribed burns.

Additional partners - the Harney Soil and Watershed Conservation District and the Harney County Watershed Council - have been working closely with the private landowners to apply for and acquire grant monies through the State of Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) to fund portions of the project such as juniper cutting on private land. The U.S. Geological Service and the Agricultural Research Service are conducting an investigation within the project area as well. And the results of all these studies allow the BLM to adjust implementation techniques and be most successful in achieving resource objectives for this and future projects.

Fellow project co-lead Lindsay Davies says that "The Five Creeks project would not have been possible without our partners. Together we've completed Phases I and II, which include 16,000 acres of mechanical juniper treatment, 21,876 acres of prescribed fire treatment, 14 miles of stream/riparian juniper treatments, 3,761 acres of post-prescribed fire aerial seeding, and 21 acres of noxious weed treatments."

The Big Payback
photo by Matt Christenson


In addition to bringing all the partners together and creating a healthy landscape for thousands of acres, the Five Creeks project is also creating jobs and putting money into the local economy. Davies added, "In three years, more than $2 million from a variety of sources has been spent on the Five Creeks project. BLM program funding, OWEB, the Burns Interagency Fire Zone, the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and private contributors have all played an important role in our success."

A project of this magnitude and success will likely inspire other regions to follow suit. Better environment. More jobs. The bottom line is perhaps best described by private landowner and Five Creeks partner Fred Otley: "It's really pretty simple. Landscape level conservation is a win-win situation, so 'why' isn't really important here. Maybe 'why not' is a better question?"

For more information on landscape level conservation, please contact the BLM's Burns District at (541) 573-4400.