Representatives of various groups on hand for event
by Samantha White
A variety of representatives from local organizations gathered at the Harney County Community Center Feb. 5 for the annual State of the County address. Each representative provided a brief summary concerning the challenges and accomplishments of their respective organizations and provided their projections for the future. A summary of each presentation is as follows:
High Desert Partnership/Harney County Restoration Collaborative
Sara Jones, executive director of the High Desert Partnership, explained that the partnership “works behind the scenes” to support collaborative efforts to resolve social, economic, and ecological challenges facing communities in Southeastern Oregon.
For example, the partnership was involved with the successful completion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).
Another accomplishment was securing a grant for the Harney County Restoration Collaborative (HCRC).
The HCRC was developed to help coordinate forest health restoration efforts on the Emigrant Creek Ranger District on the Malheur National Forest. Jack Southworth said the collaborative has been busy addressing road management issues on the forest and working to develop a balanced plan that will meet the needs of hunters, industry and wildlife.
A public science forum will be held March 7 at the Harney County Community Center, and Dr. Jerry F. Franklin and Dr. K. Norman Johnson will present the science behind dry-side restoration of Eastern Oregon forests.
The partnership and collaborative are also developing an economic summit, to be held this fall, to highlight local resources and explore options for sustainable manufacturing of local forest products.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Carla Burnside, refuge archaeologist, said the refuge recently completed its CCP (a comprehensive, 15-year plan) using a “very diverse” collaborative group. She noted that the High Desert Partnership was the force behind it, and said there weren’t any legal appeals after the plan was finalized, which is a major accomplishment.
Burnside also reported that the refuge has been receiving assistance from interns whose positions are funded by the Audubon Society of Portland. The refuge also has 15 full-time employees, and there are currently four vacant positions. Burnside said she is not sure when the vacant positions will be filled.
Burnside added that the refuge is planning a carp marking and recapture study that, if successful, will be the largest in the world.
Christy Cheyne, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) district ranger, said she is passionate about being involved in the community.
Cheyne said she’s been working with the HCRC on six large-scale projects.
She has also been working to secure Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and Title II funds.
She added that the USFS hires “a tremendous amount” of local people, adding that 85 percent of the fire crew is made up of local hires. Cheyne said most USFS employees are active in the community, taking part in activities such as the Free Fishing Day and the John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival.
Cheyne said she is currently working on the Wolf Project, and a public meeting is scheduled for March 10 at 6 p.m. at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center to discuss how roads could be impacted by the project.
Jeff Rose, associate district manager of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), reported that the Shooting Range fire, which was located near the city limits of Burns and Hines, was one of the most notable wildfires of last year’s season. In response to the fire, 71 Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) plane missions were completed in a four-hour period, and the national BLM office later provided funding to build a SEAT base at the Burns Municipal Airport. Rose said he hopes the base will be completed by June.
In an effort to address damages caused by wildfires that burned in 2012, thousands of acres have been seeded, both from the air and on-the-ground, and several miles of fence line have been constructed or re-constructed.
Rose said, last year, 68 horses were adopted from the wild horse corrals in one weekend, and the horse that won the 2013 Mustang Million (a competition designed to provide incentives for people to adopt and train wild horses) was from Harney County. There are currently 650 horses in the wild horse corrals.
Rose said the BLM has been working with the Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council and the Steens Mountain Advisory Council (SMAC). There are currently six vacancies on the SMAC, and anyone who is interested in either council should contact Rose or BLM Public Affairs Specialist Tara Martinak for more information.
Rose concluded his presentation by briefly discussing the draft Oregon Sub-Regional Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA)/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Public comments regarding the RMPA/EIS are due Feb. 20.
Harney County School District 3
Dr. Marilyn McBride, superintendent of Harney County School District 3, reported that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently rated Hines Middle School in the top 10 percent of Oregon schools. She also reported that Slater Grade School made marked improvements. However, McBride said the district really needs to concentrate on the special education population.
She added that there have been changes to the scope of the school district, explaining that, instead of focusing on kindergarten through 12th grade, the district must now target youth ages 0-20. She said the district needs to focus on preparing students for kindergarten and ensuring that high school students graduate and acquire college credits.
McBride said 45 college credits were earned at Burns High School last year, and “more and more” college credits are being earned by students while they are still in high school.
McBride said one of her goals is to hire another fourth-grade teacher, as there are currently only two fourth-grade teachers, and there will be 63 fourth-grade students next year.
Other goals include adding a child developmental specialist who will focus on middle school students, and providing full-day kindergarten classes. McBride said she also wants the focus more on attendance, and she urged community members to assist with this effort.
Harney County School District UH1J
Gail Buermann, superintendent of Crane Elementary and Crane Union High schools, described Crane Elementary as a “vibrant place of learning,” and she reported that the school earned a level 4 on the ODE report card.
Buermann said there are currently 52 students enrolled in kindergarten through 8th grade. And there are three regular classroom teachers, a Title I teacher, and a special education teacher at the elementary school.
She said the school is working to provide a “seamless transition” between middle and high school and to help students get a “head start” on graduation. Other goals for Crane Elementary School include ensuring that students are reading by third grade and launching full-day kindergarten classes.
Buermann said Crane Union High School (CUHS) received a level 5 on the ODE report card, ranking it in the top 10 percent of schools in the state of Oregon. She added that 100 percent of CUHS’ seniors graduated in 2013, and all Crane seniors are on course to graduate in 2014. Buermann added that graduates are “meeting expectations that far exceed requirements from previous years.”
Buermann also reported that eligibility requirements for the Clemens scholarship have changed, leaving this year’s seniors “scrambling to make other plans to finance their college expenses.” However, she said the district is grateful for the “tremendous financial support” that the scholarship has provided to college-bound CUHS students.
One of the goals for CUHS is to give students the opportunity to earn college credits while they are still in high school.
Buermann said the biggest challenge facing the district is adjusting expenditures to match decreasing revenue.
Harney District Hospital
Harney District Hospital (HDH) Chief Executive Officer Jim Bishop reported that 11 new, full-time employees have been added to the hospital staff.
“I think that trend is going to continue,” he said regarding the hiring increase.
Bishop said this trend will have a huge impact on the county’s economy because these are well-paying jobs. He added that pay for HDH staff is comparable to that of staff working in other small, Oregon hospitals.
Bishop said HDH’s goal is to recruit “top-of-the-line” health-care professionals and retain good, skilled people. He added that the top two causes of turnover at the hospital are retirement and the inability of staff members’ spouses to obtain employment.
Bishop also reported that the hospital acquired a clinic and physical therapy. He said acquisitions such as these are also becoming a trend in the health-care industry, as health care is becoming increasingly complicated and regulation-bound. Bishop said the acquisition allows HDH to handle the business and financial aspects of these practices, while allowing doctors and physicians to focus on providing healthcare.
Bishop said many patients are taking advantage of the hospital’s swing bed/rehabilitation services to recover from surgeries that they received in Bend. However, he said HDH would like to bring more specialists to the hospital so that patients can have their procedures performed locally.
Bishop said HDH is actively recruiting a new doctor and physician assistant.
He added that the hospital has been busy addressing health care reform, which will bring major changes to the way HDH operates. He explained that, in the past, the hospital was paid to treat sick individuals. Now, the focus has shifted to making the population healthier. Bishop said HDH is “making strides” toward this goal, and some of the effects will be immediate, while others will become evident years down the road.
Randy Fulton, Harney County Economic Development director, said he believes the Silvies Valley Ranch will be a “tremendous economic boom” to both Harney and Grant counties.
He added that he has been working with a company to establish a food-processing plant in Harney County for more than three years, explaining that the company is “slow and deliberate,” but “very successful.” Fulton said he plans to meet with the company in early March, and he hopes to learn when and where it will build, and how many people it will employ.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty was the final speaker of the evening, and he reminded those in attendance that Feb. 25 marks the county’s 125th anniversary.
Grasty said the county is currently developing its budget, and he does not expect any major changes. He added that he recently learned that the county will receive a Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payment this year, and said the county would face “significant issues” without it.
Grasty also reported that the county was recently awarded an Early Learning Council Hub, and he recognized Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols for his work with that effort.
Grasty added that the county is going to “step up” and do some road maintenance, explaining that a lot of maintenance had been deferred in the past.
Grasty said recruiting jobs continues to be a priority for the county, adding that Fulton and the Harney County Court have worked very hard to recruit the Pacific Natural Foods food-processing plant. Grasty said any rumors stating that he discouraged the plant are untrue.
Grasty said the county is facing some major challenges, and sage grouse management is among them. He explained that 1,100 jobs were lost in Harney County due to management decisions concerning the spotted owl, and he doesn’t want to see that happen again.
Grasty added that a public meeting will be held March 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Harney County Community Center to address the USFS Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision, and he encouraged the community to attend. The plan will impact the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.
Grasty said the county continues to address issues concerning FEMA flood insurance increases, and he announced that the county officially declared drought.
Grasty concluded his presentation by discussing the successes of various collaborative efforts throughout the county, including the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (to address sage grouse conservation), rural fire protection programs, and cooperative weed management efforts, among others.
“Nobody anywhere does it any better than we do. We are the answer. And you can make that ‘we’ as broad as you want to,” Grasty said.
He added that Harney County is “the best place” with “the best people,” and he urged the community to stay involved.