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Over the last decade, reed canary grass has established a robust presence in the Harney Basin. While ag producers may disagree on whether this is good or bad, a pair of projects will examine a variety of habitats where the grass is present and what practices might be employed to manage it. A third project involves mapping the basin to see where various kinds of vegetation, including reed canary grass, are growing and how pervasively they are spreading.

The Southeast Oregon Wildfire Resiliency project’s three-pronged approach—cutting out juniper, spraying invasive annual grasses with herbicides and the re-seeding of native plants—has already yielded significant results. In areas where juniper have been removed, there’s an increase in groundwater in the form of springs and healthy riparian zones. Plus, the removal of thousands of acres of junipers is helping to create a more resilient, biodiverse and fire-resistant landscape. And that’s the point.

The Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative (HBWC), a collaborative of the High Desert Partnership, was awarded a six year grant for more than $8 million from the Oregon Water Enhancement Board (OWEB) Focused Investment Partnership program. “This funding is imperative for HBWC. It will help with restoration efforts to meet the needs of ranchers, migratory birds and other species that rely on the Harney Basin wetlands for their survival,” said Melissa Petschauer, Harney Basin Ecological Coordinator.

Throughout the Harney Basin there are many water diversion structures in need of repair or replacement to spread water more efficiently and meet state safety and fish passage requirements. A recent infusion of legislative funds has made it possible to get even more work done.

Last year, the Oregon legislature designated $2.5 million to the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative to fund projects for wetlands restoration. All of the projects have the goal of benefiting migratory and resident bird populations as well as assisting landowners with water management.

A healthy snowpack in the Harney Basin benefits not only ranchers and farmers who rely on it to grow hay, but also migrating birds who depend on the flood irrigated wet meadows in the spring as they travel to their northern breeding grounds. Current snowpack numbers put the Harney Basin at a snow water equivalent of 122 percent of normal as of March 3, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

How does this water journey from the higher mountain elevations surrounding the Harney Basin (uplands) end up in the wet meadows (lowlands) where birds and ranchers benefit? It starts in the Blue Mountains to the north and Steens Mountain to the south.

As of Jan. 23, the Harney Basin snowpack was at 114 percent of normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service interactive snow water equivalent map website. While ranchers and researchers have noted that we haven’t had the early snowstorms in November and December as we did last year, this year’s numbers still give reason for locals to be optimistic about the water year.

Portland Audubon and the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative, a High Desert Partnership collaborative, are working together using song meters to help monitor birds in the Harney Basin. This information will help researchers better understand how birds utilize and adapt to habitat quality influenced by ever-changing weather conditions, as well as the stewardship strategies implemented by land managers.

During the past two years the Harney County Wildfire Collaborative implemented the Southeast Oregon Wildfire Resiliency Project (SOWR) which consisted of more than 80,000 acres of critical fuel treatments to enhance wildfire resiliency across sagebrush steppe landscapes in Southeast Oregon thanks to funding from Oregon Senate Bill 762. Mid 2023 the door was opened to apply for additional funding which could enable round two of the SOWR project to be implemented; as a result of the application, $3.8 million is coming into Harney and Malheur Counties. With this funding the Harney County Wildfire Collaborative partners will implement wildfire resiliency treatments on an additional 22,000 acres of public and private land in southeast Oregon beginning this year and into 2025.

Updating the Old Dams Will Enable More Efficient Water Use

Vegetation is thriving and invasive carp numbers are dwindling.

In 2021, Oregon Senate Bill 762 passed, allocating $220 million to help Oregon modernize and improve wildfire preparedness. The Harney County Wildfire Collaborative applied for and secured more than $5 million to address wildfire issues in the southeast corner of Oregon in Harney and Malheur counties through the Southeast Oregon Wildfire Resilience Project. Click the headline above to open a web page that takes you through the planning, implementation and impact story of this project.

High Desert Partnership's Summer Monitoring Crew play an important role in furthering collaborative work in Harney County.

Crowd sourcing wildfire detection with ALERT Wildfire cameras.

In a win for the Harney County community, the recent Oregon state legislative session resulted in the passage of bills that will send in a total of $2.5 million to support critical wet meadow work and collaboration in the Harney Basin.

A harsh yet vulnerable place that is home to a diverse species of mammals, reptiles and birds.

While birds are on the forefront with spring migration, other creatures also benefit from improved habitat.

Targeting sites for seeding grasses as part of the Southeast Oregon Wildfire Resiliency project is one
piece of the puzzle toward making the sagebrush more resilient.

A look at "collaborative conservation" across the west with a spotlight on HDP's brand of collaboration.

The Pacific Flyway famously runs right through the Harney Basin, which provides critical habitat for migratory birds.