The protection of sage grouse and its habitat in Eastern Oregon are key conservation concerns to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS), an agency of the US Department of Agriculture. One way NRCS protects critical habitat is by funding conservation easements. But easements require the participation of experienced land trusts and none are presently resident in Baker, Harney and Malheur counties in Eastern Oregon.
To determine how land trust services can be expanded in Eastern Oregon, NRCS invited Oregon land trusts to apply for a substantial planning grant. In May, NRCS announced the availability of a grant to fund work that would determine the land trust service needs in Eastern Oregon, identify the conservation partners available there to assist land trusts, quantify the easement funding sources available in the region, and develop a business plan that could lead to successful land trust operations in Eastern Oregon.
The Blue Mountain Land Trust addressed very similar questions when it was considering the expansion of its service area into the John Day River Basin. Because of this successful experience, we applied for this grant and outlined a plan to complete the deliverables required by NRCS. The NRCS awarded this competitive grant to BMLT in September.
The work required by this contract will be conducted by BMLT staff and four independent contractors. Our contacting partners include Nellie McAdams, a program director of the Rogue Farm Corps; Nathan Viavant, a local attorney and an energetic volunteer with our land trust; Mike Denny, a well-known local conservationist, a former field biologist of the US Forest Service and a conservation project manager for two Soil & Water Conservation Districts; and Esther Lev, the executive director of the Wetlands Conservancy.
Nellie, Nathan, Mike and Esther will work with our conservation directors Jason Bulay and Amanda Martino, our education and development specialist Lauren Platman, and me to complete this work. We’ll begin this 18-month project in November.
At the conclusion of our study, we will have a comprehensive plan of how land trusts can successfully provide the conservation needs of Eastern Oregon. This study will be freely available to any land trusts considering working in this region. BMLT will consider an expansion of its service area to serve a larger part of Eastern Oregon. It will be interesting to see how we and other land trusts respond to the challenges and opportunities our study will present.
We congratulate NRCS for its conservation commitment to Eastern Oregon through its sponsorship of this ambitious and important project. We are also delighted to have been chosen by NRCS to lead this study. We’ll keep you posted on our discoveries and findings.