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People Who Collaborate

Jason Kesling, District Manager for Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District

Jason Kesling is the District Manager with Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), a local government agency that helps facilitate funding for landowners so they can implement conservation projects on their private property. "Typically day to day in our office, land owners will come to us with project ideas. We then try to identify what the best funding source is based on the time of year of the project and the project itself. Being professional grant writers, we try to figure out where we can find the money, we help develop the projects and we'll track down contractors to do the work if landowners aren't doing the work themselves." There's also a big coordination piece to this work. Jason and others with SWCD coordinate regularly with the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and other government agencies to maximize the impact of projects. "So back in 2014, the district put together a kind of a grassroots, locally led partnership to enroll landowners into Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. This has led to a few different subcommittees where we coordinate our actions to maximize conservation efforts [and how funding is used] within a geographic area."

The Southeast Oregon Wildfire Resiliency project of the Harney County Wildfire Collaborative is a unique example of some of Jason's work. February 2022 the Collaborative received $5 million in funding through Senate Bill 762 and the Oregon Department of Forestry. All of the partners participating, including Jason, coordinated to maximize how these dollars were spent on public and private land to increase wildfire resiliency across the landscape. Jason, with his knowledge of private landowner's conservation needs, brought that to the table for this project. Additional funding came in early 2023 and now Jason is in the throes of utilizing that funding to remove more than 3000 acres of Juniper on private and BLM property by June 2023 when the funding spending deadline lands. 

Jason has been involved with Harney County collaboration for many years. He was involved at the beginning when he was working with the Burns Paiute Tribe. For Jason and SWCD collaboration helps a great deal in securing funding which in turn means he can help landowners complete projects while also moving quickly to make those projects happen. "So recently I said the SWCD would have applied for the Senate Bill funding that the SOWR project was funded but with [collaborating and participating with the Harney County Wildfire Collaborative] we were able to apply through High Desert Partnership and it just made the application stronger and more likely that it would be funded. We have a lot of projects waiting for money; we have a big need in Harney County to do a lot of projects, especially drought related, water development, juniper cuts and then medusahead treatments. Collaboration allows us to get access to these bigger pots of money."

Another benefit Jason is experiencing first hand is the growth of the land stewardship economy. For the juniper cutting project mentioned earlier Jason had multiple contractors bid on that project. And it's not just juniper cutting, its native seed need, invasive weed treatments, water development and other landscape resilience projects. "I think people are starting to realize there's going to be a lot of money for this; so people are starting to invest in businesses to be able to meet demand."

Outside of work Jason loves winter trips with his family to Mexico and come fall, you'll find him out often bow hunting.