Oregon Local Implementation Teams Bolstered

The following story is by Julie Unfried, Sage-grouse Local Implementation Team Coordinator in Oregon. Her position is supported in part by the Partnering to Conserve Sagebrush Rangelands effort, see other community-based capacity positions like her job here.

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I recently returned to work in the arid landscapes of central and eastern Oregon in April of 2019. What drew me back was the memory of a field season I spent in a remote area of southeastern Oregon called the Trout Creek Mountains. The dry side of Oregon is the epitome of the sagebrush sea – sagebrush as far as the eye can see, with bursts of reds, yellows, and purples provided by a diverse array of wildflowers. While it was the landscape that initially drew me in, a community of passionate and caring ranchers and land stewards is what excited me most about returning to Oregon. I’ve seen time and again, that the rural communities out here eagerly seek new opportunities to work across the fence in order that the most effective efforts are made to conserve the diverse landscapes and livelihoods held within the sagebrush sea.

Local Implementation Teams (LITs) serve as one of the primary vehicles to facilitate the delivery of sage-grouse conservation at the local level in Oregon. The Oregon Sage-Grouse Action Plan (Action Plan) and the Oregon Sage-Grouse Conservation Assessment and Strategy call for the formation of LITs. The role of the LITs is to establish collaborative venues consisting of representatives from all local interest groups to advance project implementation as outlined within the Action Plan. 

While the Vale Team is scheduled to have their first meeting later in the fall of 2019, the Prineville Team recently met for the first time in several years. Together, members of each LIT will work to identify common interests across jurisdictional boundaries. For each LIT, members will develop unique strategies allowing their team to address threats to sage-grouse while finding opportunities for targeted collaboration to increase efficiency and resources. This minimizes the shotgun pattern of conservation that often occurs when interest groups are not talking to their neighbors. In short, we already know our local partners are doing great things for sage-grouse. What I hope for is to help them find a forum to discuss the good work they’re already doing and subsequently identify common areas for opportunity to work with others in their own backyard.

While the Vale Team is scheduled to have their first meeting later in the fall of 2019, the Prineville Team recently met for the first time in several years. Together, members of each LIT will work to identify common interests across jurisdictional boundaries. For each LIT, members will develop unique strategies allowing their team to address threats to sage-grouse while finding opportunities for targeted collaboration to increase efficiency and resources. This minimizes the shotgun pattern of conservation that often occurs when interest groups are not talking to their neighbors. In short, we already know our local partners are doing great things for sage-grouse. What I hope for is to help them find a forum to discuss the good work they’re already doing and subsequently identify common areas for opportunity to work with others in their own backyard.

When the Action Plan was published in 2005, five LITs were identified but four of the five groups stopped meeting due to a lack of coordination capacity. However, due to the significant role the Action Plan describes for these groups in achieving its objectives, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) has partnered with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV), and Pheasants Forever to hire a dedicated coordinator for two of those four teams.

Now this is where I come in: In April of 2019, I began my position as Coordinator for the Vale and Prineville LITs. As such, I am responsible for reaching out to those communities and recruiting representatives from each of the various local interest groups, which include state and federal agencies (e.g., ODFW, BLM, Natural Resources Conservation Service); cattle ranchers, tribes, Rangeland Fire Protection Associations, Soil and Water Conservation Districts; and NGOs within the conservation, sporting, and recreation communities (e.g., The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Hunters Association). Given the large number of diverse constituents we hope to involve, the majority of my time has been spent meeting with folks one-on-one.

Over the last five months, I have met with more than 50 people across Oregon and in neighboring states with the following objectives: 1) recruit members for each LIT; 2) learn about local needs, interests, challenges, opportunities; 3) learn how Oregon state-level representatives can assist the local teams (financially, technical support, etc.); and, 4) learn from other, successful collaborative groups to understand how LITs can adopt similar strategies. Additionally, I have reached over 100 individuals by speaking at various local events, including the Oregon Rangeland Fire Protection Association’s annual summit and a collaborative, volunteer work event called All-Hands-All-Brands. As a result of those outreach events, I recruited several new individuals and organizations that were previously unaware of the LITs.

Pictured here is a simple wet habitat restoration structure is called a Beaver Dam Analogue (BDA). Historically, beaver dams helped keep floodplains and groundwater levels high enough to sustain people, livestock, and wildlife through the hot summer. BDAs are stick and log structures that imitate beaver dams, helping to slow down and spread out water over an area to keep it greener longer.

Pictured here is a simple wet habitat restoration structure is called a Beaver Dam Analogue (BDA). Historically, beaver dams helped keep floodplains and groundwater levels high enough to sustain people, livestock, and wildlife through the hot summer. BDAs are stick and log structures that imitate beaver dams, helping to slow down and spread out water over an area to keep it greener longer.

Because the majority of sage-grouse habitat in Oregon occurs on BLM administered lands, LIT jurisdictions are based on BLM Districts. Within the Vale and Prineville Districts sage-grouse populations and their habitats face unique threats. In Vale, the primary threats to sage-grouse involve managing intense fire and invasive annual grass regimes, while the Prineville team will deal primarily with managing encroachment of western juniper. Both teams are interested to learn more about riparian and mesic habitat restoration as water is also a limiting resource in the arid landscapes of Oregon’s sagebrush-steppe.

The opportunity for collaboration is exponential here in Oregon. One project I especially look forward to pursuing includes implementing train-the-trainer workshops in mesic and riparian restoration techniques. Additionally, because capacity to get projects done is limited in Oregon, I also want to help the LITs identify creative opportunities to hire partner biologists who can implement projects identified in the LITs’ strategic plans. I feel a great sense of responsibility to help communities across central and eastern Oregon establish value-added LITs. I also feel proud to have been given that responsibility.

Hannah Nikonowpartnership