A Win for Harney County Collaboration

by Teresa Wicks, Eastern Oregon Biologist, and Marla Polenz, High Desert Partnership
Communications Coordinator

As part of what Bird Alliance of Oregon does in the Harney Basin, we work with partners through the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative. This work includes a large geographic scope, from the Silvies Floodplain to the southern terminus of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. In 2015, the collaborative was awarded a $6 million Focal Investment Partnership (FIP) grant from Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB). Of the six years of the grant’s life, partners worked to improve irrigation infrastructure; support birds and the local community; conduct research on Malheur Lake’s water, vegetation, and functionality; and support monitoring vegetation and birds in the Blitzen Valley wet meadows.

American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans, photo by Tara Lemezis

Bird Alliance of Oregon has worked with partners to inventory birds in the Silvies Floodplain, specifically at sites associated with infrastructure projects (Project IBiS). We have also assisted with monitoring on Malheur Lake, and worked with Malheur’s biology team to inventory and monitor birds in wetlands, wet meadows, and riparian areas from the Double O to Page Springs.

The initial funding led to more projects, particularly as more local ranchers became interested in more efficient irrigation to support spring migrating waterfowl. This led the collaborative to apply for a second FIP grant. Unfortunately, we were not awarded that grant. Not to be deterred by OWEB’s decision, former Bird Alliance of Oregon conservation director Bob Sallinger and Rep. Mark Owens pivoted nearly immediately to working on a legislative funding proposal. Through the tireless efforts of Rep. Owens in Salem, and Sallinger rallying the conservation community and Harney Basin partners, $2.5 million was allocated to the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative and High Desert Partnership. This $2.5 million will provide funding for some of the out-of-the-box thinking that collaborative work often produces. It will also support Bird Alliance of Oregon’s work to understand reed canarygrass, its effects on birds and macroinvertebrates, and methods for treating reed canarygrass to best support wildlife. There will be more opportunities to support updating infrastructure to make moving water on the landscape more efficient to reduce the promotion of invasives, particularly reed canarygrass.

One of the many positive things about collaborative work is the creative opportunities for problem-solving. The Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative continued to work together through the occupation of Malheur NWR and through the difficult and unpredictable COVID landscape, and was able to pivot as a collaborative to pursue legislative funding. This funding is functionally a bridge, both in actuality and metaphorically. In actuality, it will allow for “bridge funding” while the collaborative continues to work on projects and future funding. Metaphorically, it is a bridge from Bob’s time at Bird Alliance of Oregon to his new endeavors. Bob Sallinger was a central figure in helping to ensure this funding exists and that Bird Alliance of Oregon and our work in the Harney Basin will benefit into the future.