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Lisa Mahon grew up on an Ohio farm, surrounded by corn, wheat, soybeans and hogs.
BRAINSTORMING: Lisa Mahon, manager of the Union Soil and Water Conservation District, discusses a current landowner project with the district’s engineer, Layne Lindley. Mahon began her position last April. The Observer/ETHAN SCHOWALTER-HAY
That background comes in handy today, as she interfaces daily with Northeast Oregon landowners concerned about the productivity and health of their spreads.
And Mahon’s in a good position to assist them. In April, she became manager of the Union Soil and Water Conservation District.Her agricultural heritage gives her valuable perspective in the role, and so does the academic training that first brought her to the Pacific Northwest. In December 2007, she earned a bachelor’s degree in conservation biology and wildlife resources from the University of Idaho in Moscow.
While there, she forged a real connection with the Blue/Wallowa Mountain country: she started dating a Wallowa County native, Drew Mahon, after meeting him in the U of I’s Logger Sports Club.
Drew, whose father owns Bear Creek Logging, is a logger himself.
The two were married this fall back in Ohio; they currently live in Wallowa.
The USWCD provides technical assistance to landowners interested in restoration and stewardship projects on their property. And Mahon’s acquiring new skills in this capacity.
“I’m having fun — I’m enjoying learning,” she said.
Much of the district’s assistance, Mahon said, comes in the form of grant-writing and connecting individuals with the funding available for these kinds of initiatives.
Mahon shares the office with the district engineer, Layne Lindley, who provides technical support for stewardship endeavors.
Related to its focus, the district coordinates with other agencies and organizations, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Grande Ronde Model Watershed and the Forest Service.
Among the district’s current initiatives is a filter strip demonstration project, funded by Department of Environmental Quality dollars. This involves landowners with bare roadside ditches who want to better buffer streams against direct runoff and control erosion.
Lindley said these projects are a good opportunity for the district, landowners and often the county to collaborate.
“There’s a lot of potential out there, and it’s a really good partnership,” he said.
For example, along a recent vegetation buffer installed along Market Lane, the district’s grant money was able to reimburse the county’s labor and equipment expenses.
Mahon also has a passion for education, and wants to increase outreach efforts at area schools. Among the district’s resources is EnviroScape, an instruction kit aimed at teaching elementary students about watershed concepts.
Differently-colored materials like cocoa, for example, are distributed on a drainage map to represent chemicals like automotive oil or fertilizer. Kids then spray down the substances to represent the dispersive effects of rain and runoff.
Mahon wants to touch base with as many landowners, resource managers and other stakeholders as she can. She recently attended the annual conference of the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, held on the Oregon coast in Newport.
“That was great, because I got to meet with a lot of other district managers,” she said.
Mahon is also a member of the Eagle Cap Resource Conservation and Development Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting communities with natural resource, social and economic projects.
She’s partnered with Mike Burton of the La Grande NRCS office on one of the council’s efforts, the Agriculture Energy Efficiency Program, which helps producers find grant money to improve the energy efficiency of their operations.
With all these responsibilities, it’s easy to see how Mahon stays busy on the daily beat. And down the road? She and her husband are thinking of organizing some logging sports right here in Northeast Oregon.
Anyone with questions about projects, or to rent the district’s range drill and aerator, should call Mahon at 963-0724.