A Union resident who has planted enough trees to fill a 20,000-acre forest, a Cove farmer cutting down on energy consumption by staying near high- tech’s cutting edge and a Summerville landowner helping a portion of Dry Creek twist again.

These are among the eight Union County men and women honored at the 70th annual Union County Farmer-Merchant Banquet Thursday at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande.

Dan Hoyt of Union, who has helped plant at least 20 million trees over 60 years, received the Forest Steward of the Year Award.

“I am a little embarrassed and very proud of the honor,” Hoyt said prior to the banquet, put on by the Union County Chamber of Commerce.

Jamie Knight of the Oregon Department of Forestry, who has worked with Hoyt for 15 years, spoke movingly of Hoyt during her introduction of him, referring to his inspiring nature.

“He has touched my soul,” Knight said.

She said Hoyt is one of the kindest people she has met and someone who is quick to defend others.

“He would be the first to stand up for you if he thought you might be harmed,” Knight said.

Many of the millions of trees Hoyt has grown were planted on Oregon Department of Forestry land. The trees he raises are kept in coolers he constructs and about 70 percent of the trees are ponderosa pines.

Union was also represented at the banquet’s honor ceremony by John Hefner, a rancher who was named Cattleman of the Year. Hefner has raised cattle for 45 years and said the quality of the people in his line of work are what make it rewarding.

“It’s a good livelihood but you are not going to get rich working at it,” Hefner said.

He loves his work but said it presents its share of challenges.

“People think it is all fun and dandy when the weather is good, but when you are packing calves into a barn at two or three in the morning when it is cold and the wind is howling, it is not the life that people think it is,” Hefner said.

The Union rancher praised the Union County Chamber of Commerce for the quality of the banquet and its support of agriculture.

Cheryl Martin helped put the North Powder agricultural community in the spotlight by winning the Ag Woman of Year Award. Martin learned of her selection when she answered her cellphone while working cattle on her family’s North Powder area ranch.

“I was totally shocked,” she said.

Martin was praised by Kurt Romans, owner of Romans’ Precision Irrigation, not only for her work as a rancher but also for the ways she touched the lives of young people as a North Powder School District teacher and adviser for its FFA chapter.

Martin praised the support she has received from her family and said she enjoys ranching immensely.

“I would not want to do anything else,” Martin said.

The Young Farmer of the Year Award went to Colby Johnson of Cove.

Jed Hassinger, who presented the award, praised Johnson for being at the forefront of using technology to farm more efficiently, which means he is using less fuel and agricultural products, reducing his environmental impact. The technology has also allowed him to use wastewater from the Cove municipal water system for irrigation.

Hassinger noted Johnson operates a Century Farm that has long been in his family.

“He is s fifth generation farmer,” Hassinger said.

Johnson was selected by a Union County Farm Bureau Committee. The committee, Hassinger said, quickly decided on Johnson.

“It was an obvious choice,” he said.

The Good Steward of the Year Award went to Mary Aiwohi of Summerville. Aiwohi was recognized for her role in helping restore a quarter-mile portion of Dry Creek on her property so it can provide improved spawning habitat for steelhead. Aiwohi was a partner in a project led by the Union Soil and Water Conservation District.

The project restored a meander to a quarter-mile portion of Dry Creek that had been straightened many years ago. The straightening increased the flow of the creek, deepening the channel and causing erosion. Adding a twisting meander to the creek has slowed its flow and helped widen the channel, creating better spawning habit for steelhead.

Aiwohi, a veterinarian, also said that many slabs of concrete were removed from the creek during the restoration work, further boosting stream quality. The concrete had apparently been placed in the creek decades ago to prevent flooding.

The project was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

Jim Webster, district manager for the Union County Soil and Water Conservation District, said Aiwohi’s help was instrumental to the success of the project.

“We are really dependent on private landowners like Mary,” Webster said. “She has been such a strong supporter of the district.’’

The Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award went to Union County Commissioner Steve McClure, who will retire at the end of this year.

“I am really honored,’’ McClure said.

This was the second time McClure has been saluted at the Farmer-Merchant Banquet, for in the early 1980s he was named Young Farmer of the Year. McClure first started attending the banquet with his father about 60 years ago. He said once in the late 1950s or early 1960s he heard Oregon U.S. Senator Wayne Morse speak at the banquet.

McClure is impressed the banquet has been conducted for seven decades.

“This community should be proud that this has been been put on for 70 years,” said McClure, who will retire as Union County Commissioner at the end of this year after serving 28 years.

The winner of the Conservation Farm of the Year Award, Sage Elmer, said he was caught off guard when he learned several weeks ago of his selection.

“I was honored and very surprised. I didn’t think anybody was watching what we were doing,’’ Elmer said.

The award salutes steps Elmer has taken to reduce soil erosion caused by wind and rain and his efforts to improve soil health.

Howard Cantrell received the Ecological Restoration and Conservation Award. Cantrell was saluted for his role in the restoration of a six-mile portion of Five Points Creek, 15 miles northwest of La Grande. The project was led by the U.S. Forest Service’s La Grande Ranger District. It restored habitat for wild salmon, steelhead and bull trout that had been greatly degraded by timber and agricultural activities, according to a September 2016 Observer article.

Cantrell was a project partner as the owner of a portion of the stream habitat restored by the Forest Service, work done with his permission. The partners assisting the Forest Service also included the Grande Ronde Model Watershed, Oregon Department of Transportation, Bonneville Power Administration, Union Pacific Railroad, Iron Triangle, Kelly Corporation of Powell Butte and Columbia Helicopters.

A total of 1,200 large dead trees were added to the six-mile stretch of stream in the process of restoring fish habitat.

Jeff Oveson, executive director of the Grande Ronde Model Watershed, said Cantrell’s help was crucial to the success of the project.

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