By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
hris Heffernan of North Powder has no shortage of energy, interests or sense of community commitment.
When he is not managing his family's ranch, he is addressing issues as a member of the State Board of Forestry or volunteering as a member of the Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol.
What doesn't he schedule time for?
Calling the state to report deer and elk damage to his property.
Heffernan and his family welcome deer and elk on to their land. In fact, the Heffernans draw 120 elk and 100 mule deer to their property on a regular basis. There the elk and deer feed on crops specifically set aside for wildlife.
The habitat the Heffernans provide is helping keep deer and elk away from the fields of landowners throughout southern Union County and northern Baker County.
The Heffernans' work has not gone unrecognized. Progressive Farmer magazine of Birmingham, Ala., has named their ranch a farm of the year in a national competition.
The Heffernans' North Slope Natural Resources Ranch west of North Powder has been selected by a team of biologists as the winner in the Big Game Management category of the Wildlife Stewardship Farm of the Year awards program.
The wildlife stewardship program was created by Progressive Farmer/Rural Sportsman magazine to identify farms where lands are managed to benefit wildlife, and are made available in some capacity for those participating in shooting sports.
Chris and his wife, Donna, are the owners of the 1,962-acre ranch. They run the ranch with the help of their sons, Sheldon and Justin.
An 85-acre alfalfa field is one reason why the ranch is so attractive to deer and elk. Each year the first two cuttings are sold for hay. However, the third is allowed to grow for wildlife. Elk and deer are also drawn to orchards of apple, plum, apricot and cherry trees. The orchards were on the land when the Heffernans obtained it in 1992.
The work the Heffernans do is particularly valuable in the fall. This is when deer and elk come down from the mountains to eat the added vegetation. Large numbers of the wandering deer and elk can cause property damage and pose traffic hazards.
The work done by the Heffernans is minimizing this problem.
"We intercept them and keep them here with food and water,'' Chris Heffernan said.
The water available on the land includes a pond that is fed downhill to a trough, which is used by cattle and wildlife.
The Heffernans can afford to raise crops for big game because of grants they have received for wildlife programs. Organizations and agencies that have assisted include the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The Heffernans own 1,332 acres of the ranch and lease the remaining 630 acres. A portion of it is used to raise cash crops including alfalfa and timber.
The Heffernans' land was thick with timber when they purchased it. It has been thinned to improve the health of the forest and to create open spaces for wildlife.
The Heffernans' sons, Sheldon, a sophomore at Powder Valley High School, and Justin, a freshman at Eastern Oregon University, also worked hard to help their parents develop the property.
"They were 5 and 8 and when we started. Now they can look back and reflect on all the good things they did,'' Chris Heffernan said.
The Heffernans do not offer fee hunting on their property. They would not be eligible for wildlife habitat development grants if they did.
They do, however, donate their land for some guided youth hunts.
Chris Heffernan is pleased about the farm of the year award but believes it is also a salute to the many organizations who have helped his family. He wants everyone in the region to share it because of the help they
Meanwhile, Heffernan has no plans to cut back his busy schedule.
"It keeps me young and it keeps me thinking,'' he said.