Task force focuses on rehabilitation of the land and livestock communities
By Randy Parks
In response to the devastating wildfires in Harney and Malheur counties, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) President Curtis Martin announced the creation of RESTOR, a task force within OCA dedicated to providing assistance and education, building understanding and awareness, and facilitating improvements regarding current and future wildfires in the state.
RESTOR (Restore Everything Strategically Through Organized Response) is led by Colby Marshall, a Harney County native who spent eight years managing natural resource and energy issues on the staff of Rep. Greg Walden, and who currently helps manage his family’s ranch in the Double O Valley near Riley.
Also on the RESTOR task force: Bob Skinner, former OCA president and livestock producer from Jordan Valley; Kay Teisl, executive director of the OCA; Jeff Rose, associate Burns district manager of the Bureau of Land Management; Chad Karges, deputy manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; Tony Svejcar, rangeland scientist and research leader at the Agricultural Research Service in Burns; and Scott Fairley, the governor’s eastside economic coordinator.
“The problem of wildfires is so enormously devastating that we felt the creation of a dedicated resource was the only way to provide the focus and attention this issue requires,” said OCA President Curtis Martin, a rancher from Baker City. “With his policy experience and deep knowledge of ranching, Colby is the right person to drive this process and to help us channel our resources to their highest and best use.”
Just four days after its creation, the first order of business for RESTOR was to conduct community meetings last week in Jordan Valley and Frenchglen to gather impact information from those affected by the fires. While no formal recommendations have been put forward by RESTOR at this point, several themes regarding potential improvements emerged in both sessions, including:
• Importance of extinguishing rangeland fires quickly so as to not lose plant cover, which has dramatic impacts on livestock operations and wildlife such as sage grouse. The most important management strategy is to keep the remaining large tracks of high desert habitat from catastrophically burning.
• Providing additional information, greater flexibility and rapid response to livestock producers regarding access to federal lands in fire-affected areas so as to enable them to make important short- and long-term business decisions.
• The need for more peer-reviewed research and monitoring regarding the amount of time required before rangeland can be used again for grazing by livestock producers.
• The need for additional equipment and training directed toward livestock communities that could provide greater assistance and coordination with government emergency services during initial attack response to control future rangeland fires.
• The opportunity to learn from these events and work in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders to develop innovative solutions that could be used to respond to future wildfires.
Marshall stated, “The meetings went very well and we appreciate the livestock producers who took their valuable time to attend and let the task force know what their needs are and ideas for moving forward. Without their participation, we wouldn’t be able to gather the critical information needed to put together future recommendations.”
The RESTOR task force will utilize input received from these sessions to develop solutions while working with land managers; local, state and federal agencies; congressional representatives; and other interested parties. The task force will also convene a Restoration Roundtable discussion in the fall of 2012 to explore further improvements at the federal, state and local levels to reduce the frequency and intensity of wildfires and to improve government and community responses when they occur.
“RESTOR has started a dialogue to bring together a wide group of stakeholders for conversations to find solutions we hope will enable all interests to respond more efficiently, effectively and positively to future wildfires. This is an opportunity to do things the same way or change to find solutions that benefit everyone,” said Marshall.
Additionally, charitable donations of cash or in-kind contributions (including hay, supplies, transportation and livestock relocation options) are being accepted online, via phone or in person at the OCA office. To make a contribution to the Fire Victims Relief Fund, or to offer in-kind or relocation assistance, contact Kay Teisl, executive director of OCA, at 503-361-8941 or via email, kayteisl@orcattle. com. Contributions can also be made online at: www.orcattle.com/make-a-donation-ocsf.html