The Grande Ronde Model Watershed team will see a familiar face filling the role of executive director. Previously a project coordinator and fish biologist with GRMW, starting at the program in July of 2010, Jesse Steele will now lead his team in the restoration of wildlife habitats for fish. An announcement made at the annual planning meeting for the Grande Ronde Model Watershed Tuesday morning kicked off his new role. 

“I am excited to continue the good work already taking place,” Steele said. “I like the role here at the Grande Ronde Watershed. We are actually implementing and funding restoration projects.”

Steele grew up in Wallowa and graduated from Eastern Oregon University with a degree in liberal studies with minors in biology and geology. He said originally he had planned to be a science teacher, but rather than continuing his post-graduate studies, he chose to apply at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Northeast Fish Research Program where he worked until joining GRMW. 

“I knew I wanted to be involved in the science/biology field,” Steele said. “Science is just interesting. It is the way we answer questions. If anyone has a question on why something works the way it does, we rely on science for the answer.”

As the executive director, Steele will oversee a team of five, with the possible addition of a sixth employee in the future. He will be in charge of administrative work, in addition to budgeting and fiscal responsibilities. His main goal is to continue the work the organization has been doing to restore fish populations and improve their habitat. 

“Fish are important culturally, economically and recreationally,” Steele said. 

Steele acknowledged that in order to meet its goals, GRMW faces a number of challenges, and as executive director he is committed to solving any problems in a way that works for the residents of Union and Wallowa counties. For instance, the fact that many of the habitats the program would like to access are on private property means working with landowners and farmers to make sure things go smoothly and work for both parties. 

Steele applied for the position when the previous executive director, Jeff Oveson, announced his retirement. Shadowing Oveson, Steele had the chance to learn from his experience and was able to take on some of the responsibilities before he came on full time as the new executive director. He said while he is taking on more work, he is enjoying it and has a lot of ideas he can’t wait to start implementing. 

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