The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has awarded nearly $420,000 in grants to restore habitat for imperiled sage grouse in Eastern Oregon, treating invasive grasses and helping ranchers to protect riparian vegetation.
OWEB announced four grants at its board meeting Oct. 16-17 in Gold Beach, which will go to the Malheur Soil & Water Conservation District, Harney SWCD, Crook SWCD and the Malheur Watershed Council.
Funding for OWEB grants comes from the state lottery, federal dollars and salmon license plate revenue. An 18-member board awards grants for work on streams, wetlands and other natural areas.
In 2015, OWEB adopted a policy to dedicate at least $10 million over 10 years to aid sage grouse preservation. That same year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opted not to list the bird as an endangered species. The federal government did approve sage grouse protections in 11 western states, including Oregon, though the Trump administration has since opened those plans to further review.
Including this year’s grants, OWEB has awarded nearly $7 million toward sage grouse habitat, and is on pace to exceed its stated target.
“This project is a great investment of the state’s lottery dollars,” said Meta Loftsgaarden, OWEB executive director. “This investment benefits Oregon’s greater sage grouse habitat, while also supporting natural resource jobs in local communities.”
The Malheur SWCD will receive $55,476 to treat invasive annual grasses on 640 acres along Crooked Creek outside Jordan Valley. The Harney SWCD similarly was awarded $176,908 to treat western juniper and work with landowners to manage streamside vegetation near Burns.
The Malheur Watershed Council landed $120,775 to plant native vegetation and stabilize stream banks, which will benefit not only sage grouse but Columbia spotted frog and redband trout. Finally, the Crook SWCD will receive $66,577 to enroll private landowners into conservation agreements under the Crooked River Watershed Sage Grouse Conservation Project, working to develop site-specific protection plans in Crook and Deschutes counties.
Eric Harstein, senior policy coordinator for OWEB, said the benefits of these projects don’t stop at the sage grouse. They go on, he said, to improve conditions for other wildlife and cattle, which makes up the bulk of Eastern Oregon’s agricultural economy.
“You see a lot of win-wins with sage grouse projects. That’s why I think we have a lot of local support for doing projects in Eastern Oregon,” Harstein said. “These are projects we’re excited about, and hope to see more of in the coming years.”