Watershed moment

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer July 29, 2010 07:37 am
Grande Ronde Model Watershed has added two staff members as it forges ahead with stream and wildlife habitat restoration projects in Union and Wallowa counties. The non-profit agency, funded in large part by grants from the Bonneville Power Administration, is in the midst of several important projects now, with more on the horizon. Executive Director Jeff Oveson said the addition of Jesse Steele and Leigh Collins will help keep the work on track.

“The BPA is obligated to implement a lot more projects on the ground,” he said. “We needed to add these positions in order to create a better relationship between us, other agencies and landowners.”

A major effort under way, said Oveson, is the Catherine Creek Tributary Assessment, an effort to evaluate stream and fish habitat conditions along Catherine Creek, from the state park outside Union, upstream to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest boundary.

Steele, a field biologist, is a 1998 Wallowa High School graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies — with an emphasis in general science — from Eastern Oregon University in 2004. He was hired

July 12, and early on found himself heavily involved with the Catherine Creek assessment.

“I’ve been doing landowner contacts, calling on them and explaining what we’re doing, and getting permission to survey through their property,” he said.

Before joining GRMW, Steele worked as a field biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Northeast Fish Research Office.

“It’s where I got my background in fishery science and learned how habitat restoration can improve fish survival,” he said.

He said he applied for his new job because he wanted to become more involved in habitat restoration.

“It’s a change of pace for me,” he said. “I’ll be working in an area I haven’t been involved in a lot, one that interests me. I was involved in fish research but not too involved in improving fish populations.”

Collins, the other new staff member, was hired this month as GRMW’s public involvement and education coordinator. Her mission is to expand and improve the agency’s outreach efforts.

Collins grew up in La Grande, graduating from the local high school in 2003. She earned an Eastern Oregon University  bachelor’s degree in biology — with a chemistry minor — in 2009, and the next year earned a master’s in arts and teaching.

She said her new job with GRMW suits her, even though it means she won’t be teaching in the traditional sense of the word.

“I was never fully sure I wanted to teach, and when this position popped open, it seemed to fit my interests,” she said.

In addition to turning out the GRMW’s signature publication, Ripples in the Grande Ronde, Collins said she will spend much time raising awareness of the agency and its goals.

She said she is especially looking forward to outreach work in local schools.

“I’ll get involved with the schools and help kids learn about fish and the ecosystem,” she said.

Oveson said Collins’ position is a key one, because it is important for GRMW to stay in close contact with the public — especially farmers and ranchers.

“We need to show that habitat restoration projects and agriculture go together,” he said.

Founded in 1994, the GRMW is the primary entity coordinating habitat restoration on both private and public lands within the Grande Ronde and Imnaha River basins.

Current projects in Union County include a rebuilding of the Townley-Dobbins fish diversion on Catherine Creek, and replacement of culverts on the north fork of Cabin Creek.

In Wallowa County, the agency is helping the City of Enterprise and Alpine Meadows Golf Course design an irrigation system that utilizes treated effluent from the local waste water treatment plant.