Conservation programs on three separate tribal properties in Grant and Harney counties have improved habitat for fish and wildlife on riparian, upland and forest lands.
The work was completed thanks to partnerships between the Burns Paiute Tribe, which formed in 1897 on lands around Burns, and the USDA Farm Services, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Bonneville Power Administration.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Erica Maltz, the Tribe’s natural resource director. “They’ve been a great partner, enabling us to strike that balance between economic, cultural and natural resource management.”
Limited hunting opportunities for waterfowl and game birds are provided on some of the lands through an agreement with the BPA, but tribal members have priority.
Monitoring includes small mammal, bird and amphibian surveys and habitat surveys.
The Tribe’s relationship with the USDA began in 2007 with the 1,760-acre property in Logan Valley it acquired in 2000. The property includes wet meadows, upland habitat and forest land.
Using the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the Tribe implemented steps to stem streambank erosion on 345 acres along Lake and Big creeks and their tributaries.
This included planting native species suitable to the site, such as Booth’s willow, Geyer’s willow, western dogwood, wild rose, golden currant and quaking aspen.
Electric and laydown fencing were used to protect the plantings from cattle and elk, but the short growing season, browsing elk and incised streambanks left Lake Creek with marginal plant species. Big Creek, on the other hand, was a “poster child of success,” with lush growth of willows, wild rose and native grasses.
The Tribe leases the grassy meadows to area ranchers and uses the Conservation Stewardship Program to plan a rest and rotation grazing system. CSP assistance is also used for brush management and thinning in the forest area.
“The various cost-share programs offered by NRCS provide an important local investment,” said Calla Hagle, the Tribe’s wildlife program manager. “They significantly expand what we’re able to do and a primary source of conservation funding in Logan Valley.”
The Logan Valley site is used by the Tribe for its annual weeklong culture camp. Youths from grade school to high school gather at the camp with tribal elders and staff from the Tribe’s natural and cultural resources departments for a variety of hands-on learning opportunities. These include GPS scavenger hunts, fishing, tribal history talks and crafts.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into managing for the various ages and planning age-appropriate activities,” Hagle said. “However, there’s tremendous gratification in watching a young person, who refused to enter a stream for a fish count at the beginning of the week, then refuses to get out of the stream at the end of the week.”
The Tribe’s most recent acquisition is a 2,400-acre property on Beech Creek north of Mt. Vernon, purchased with a traditional mortgage through the Indian Land Tenure Foundation in 2016. The site was in pretty good shape as the previous owners held conservation values that the Tribe agreed to continue, Hagle said.
Some camping opportunities at the Beech Creek Ranch were provided during the 2017 eclipse event. A juniper removal project will begin this fall with the hope to see the harvested wood put to use, Hagle said.
The Beech Creek property had been managed as agricultural working land. Fencing to protect the riparian areas from overgrazing and streambank degradation will be implemented through CREP funding.
In addition, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding through the Northside Mule Deer Winter Habitat Initiative will be used to enhance winter habitat by juniper removal, and CSP assistance will be used to enhance crop, pasture and range management.
A big step for the Tribe was the reintroduction of adult chinook salmon in the Malheur River near the Logan Valley property in 2016 through negotiations with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. This provided tribal members their first opportunity to harvest the ceremonial fish from the river since 1919.
The Tribe acquired the 6,300-acre Jonesboro property in Malheur County in 2000, Hagle said. The property was not in as good shape as the other two and required more focus, she said.
To improve this “oasis in the desert,” the Tribe implemented a 345-acre CREP project along the Malheur River with a focus on eliminating weeds and providing habitat for big game and birds.
Native plants and grasses, including chokecherry, elderberry, Great Basin wild rye, western wheatgrass, Idaho fescue and blue bunch wheatgrass were planted along the streambank.
Jonesboro’s remaining 6,000 acres include rugged canyons covered in juniper and sagebrush that provides good sage grouse habitat. Starting in 2013, the Tribe entered into an EQIP contract to remove juniper and enhance the sagebrush steppe habitat to promote sage grouse recovery.