In September 2009, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) began the process of drafting a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) to govern the direction of the refuge management for the next 15 years.
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Plan provides for 15 years of management
by Randy Parks
The Refuge opted to use a collaborative process, and worked with the High Desert Partnership (HDP) and Oregon Consensus to bring all interested parties together to work toward common goals.
As part of the collaborative process, the Refuge invited scientists, agencies, conservation groups, Harney County residents, recreationists and elected officials to be involved in drafting the CCP.
After more than three years of planning, meetings, discussions and more than a little give-and-take, the final comprehensive conservation plan and environmental impact statement (CCP/EIS) for the Refuge was completed. The draft included three alternatives for managing the Refuge for the next 15 years, and Alternative 2 was identified as the preferred alternative. In that alternative it was stated that the “principal focus for habitat management would be to improve the aquatic health of lakes and wetlands, primarily by controlling nonnative common carp.”
The alternative outlined methods of reducing the carp population, flexible management of wetlands and terrestrial habitats and new developments for improving the Refuge.
The final draft was filed with the Federal Register in December 2012, and on Thursday, March 21, many of the people who gave input on the CCP got together for a celebration at the Big Bear Lodge in Hines. The group included local ranchers, BLM and Refuge staff, representatives from Audubon Society, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, HDP, biologists and agency members.
Robyn Thorson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Northwest Regional Director, praised those in attendance for all their work and the manner in which it was done. “You all had a vision for a forward collaborative effort. You did it in a way that was respectful and honored both science and heritage. I’m here to honor you, and I’m proud of what you achieved,” she said. “It was my privilege, as director, to sign the CCP, but I bow to those who made the CCP. You have provided a beacon that others can follow. I thank you for your work and say it’s a job well done.”
Peter Harkema of Oregon Consensus agreed that the CCP was a remarkable document and asked those seated around the “round-table” to share what accomplishment they were most proud of in the CCP process, and what are they most looking forward to?
Harney County Extension Agent Dustin Johnson stated that the process should, and hopefully will, set the standard for natural resource management.
Harney County rancher and county commissioner Dan Nichols said he was extremely gratified to see the community step up initially in the process, and the way the federal agency listened to the residents. He recognized the High Desert Partnership for their efforts, and noted that even though it was a long series of meetings, two years worth, friendships were made along the way. “It’s a win-win situation. The way land management should appear in the future,” he said. “We’ve identified goals, and people have invested their time and are willing to invest more. It’s an ongoing managerial effort with science behind it.”
Gary Marshall, a Harney County rancher and member of the HDP, said, “This was a real success. Congratulations to Fish and Wildlife for getting behind it.
“There was anxiety, frustration, hope and a vision in the beginning, and I think we exceeded that vision.”
HDP member Bill Renwick pointed out that the partnership had prior success with a project on the Malheur National Forest. He said he has seen other collaborative efforts fail, but after the successes on the forest and the Refuge, he has become a “convert.” He added that the CCP was a result of “partnerships, relationships and friendships,” and thanked the Oregon Consensus for its involvement.
Several Refuge staff members expressed a willingness to move forward with the CCP now that it’s in place.
Jay Kerby with The Nature Conservancy said the process used was, “not a facade, it was real. When we agree it’s easy, but when we disagree, it (CCP) puts together a process to reach a consensus.”
Bob Sallinger of the Audubon Society stated that it was important to let the process go and allow it to flow. “Getting down to the basics and bringing in the experts gave us confidence. We saw so much movement from the staff after meetings and could see changes starting to happen. It’s a good example of how the collaborative process worked.”
Chad Karges, deputy manager of the Refuge, said, “I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I think the outcome is maybe better than what we expected. It’s a new way of doing business. We have the structure to learn together and find solutions.”
Region 1 Refuge Chief Robin West stated that he moved back to Oregon after living in Alaska for more than 30 years and noticed that people didn’t visit with each other as they had in the past. “They’ve lost the feeling of being neighbors. But you guys have recaptured some of that,” he said. “You put in an incredible amount of time and energy, and have a plan for the future.”
Refuge Manager Tim Bodeen announced that Friends of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge received the 2013 Outstanding Invasive Species Volunteer Award and showed the plaque to those in attendance.
Bodeen called drafting the CCP an “amazing experience” and said he was intrigued by the amount of passion people have for the Refuge. “We brought back former Refuge biologists and managers, and I realized that as manager, I inherited a legacy. It really is a legacy,” he said.
Bodeen expressed excitement about implementing the CCP, working on the carp issue and “healing the refuge to what it should be.”
Those interested may download a copy of the final CCP/EIS, or contact the Refuge to request a printed or CD-ROM copy of the document, as follows:
Agency Web Site:
Download the final CCP/EIS at www.fws.gov/pacific/planning
FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov. Include “Malheur NWR CCP/EIS” in the subject line of your request for a printed or CD-ROM copy of the final CCP/EIS.