Trout Creek Mountain Working Group
by Doc and Connie Hatfield
with working group members input
(This pamphlet is in the process of being updated and reprinted by the BLM)
|Building Solutions for the Land and People
Much of our personal effort the past 10 years has been spent building bridges between concerned urban environmentalists and long term ranchers who depend on the land for their livelihood. Putting folks with different backgrounds and values together for the purpose of making positive change on the land a reality, is a slow, painful but, rewarding process. The Trout Creek Mountain experience is an example of how the land and the people can win.
HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
Evolution of the Trout Creek Mountain Working Group began in June of 1988. The authors of this article and Wayne Elmore were invited by the Oregon B.L.M. Vale District to give a talk to ranchers in the Trout Creek Mountain area of southeastern Oregon. The purpose of the talk was to give examples of how ranchers in the Prineville B.L.M. District have been able to work cooperatively with the B.L.M. to generate management changes that better the ecological health of the land.
The Prineville, Oregon area has been well publicized by Wayne Elmore, a B.L.M. riparian specialist, who has presented his slide show talk all over the country and has become "Mr Riparian," a well-deserved title. Wayne has worked out of the same area for 18 years. The dramatic results he shows on the Bear Creek watershed were possible because:
Enough on the history of the Prineville program. Let's get back to the sensitive and fragile Trout Creek Mountain area and the June 1988 meeting at the schoolhouse in the tiny border town of McDermitt, Nevada. Picture the setting: one very angry manager of the Whitehorse Ranch, five other unbelievably frustrated ranchers, and several B.L.M. folks including the area manager, range cons, wildlife biologist and hydrologist.
Visualize "the mountain" which occupies nearly a quarter of a million acres of mostly B.L.M. managed federal land in the southeastern corner of Oregon. Part of the mountain is in the Vale B.L.M. District, part in the Burns district and a small part of the south side is in the state of Nevada. A majority of the area is in wilderness study, and is part of the Oregon B.L.M.'s top priority for wilderness designation.
This unique range of desert mountain country rises from a 4,000-foot base to a height near 8,000 feet. No evergreen trees grow in this rugged country, but many native grasses, shrubs and trees thrive there. On top, the grass waves in the wind among the sagebrush and bitterbrush surrounded by patches of mountain mahogany. Aspen grow in the basins just off the top and continue in large scattered groves down numerous scenic, steep, rock-rimmed canyon walls. A successful transplant of Bighorn sheep roams the mountain which also contains trophy mule deer, cougar and sage grouse to mention a few of the more "politically sensitive" wildlife species. Many small, wet meadows which are dry meadows during drought form the headwaters of several hundred miles of creeks which flow out to the flat desert floor. Willow, wild rose, and additional aspen make their living in the wet green areas (riparian zones) along the creeks.
The creeks are the source of irrigation water for the ranches which are scattered around the base of the mountain at the mouth of the streams. Most are family owned and historically have produced wild hay and some alfalfa on their flood irrigated meadows. Since settlement in the late 1800's the cattle operations have been based on grazing the mountain in the summer, the flat desert in the winter, with the remainder of the feed requirements being met with hay. These ranches would be described in ranching circles as being well balanced, natural, cow/calf range outfits.
Pastures on the mountain vary from several thousand acres up to 50,000 acres in size. Nearly all of them contain live creeks which support trout. Some of the trout are hybrids which resulted when the Nevada Fish & Game Dept released Rainbow and Brook trout from the early 1930's through the 1950's to "improve" the fisheries. These "exotics" bred with the native Lahontan cutthroat trout and produced what has over time stabilized into a desirable game fish.
Several of the streams where the "exotics" were not released, or where a natural stream barrier prevented intermingling, still contain pure strains of the original Lahontan. It was in these streams in the Vale B.L.M. district (home to the native cutthroat) where the primary land management concern existed. These remaining pure Lahontans are held in great respect by an increasing number of folks interested in wild natural ecosystems in general and wild trout in particular.
Ranchers in the area have been very aware of the uniqueness of these trout and had made efforts in the past by riding to keep their cattle off the creeks in the hot parts of the summer. However, in reality this did not prove to be very effective. Fencing was impractical due to the size and roughness of the country. Also, because it is a wilderness study area, new fences are nearly impossible to get approved. It is no wonder the ranchers were frustrated that June of 1988.
Likewise, it is no wonder that folks concerned about the native trout were frustrated. One critical factor for trout production is water temperature. Keeping water cool in these desert streams requires shade from grassy overhanging banks, willows and aspen. Beaver harvest of willows and aspen coupled by cattle grazing of their sprouts and new seedlings had taken its toll on the tree populations along the creeks for over a century. Besides providing shade, the willow roots are important to hold the banks together during floods. Finally, heavier concentrations of cattle in the creeks in late summer had caved off the overhanging banks. The result was warmer water temperatures and a marginal trout habitat.
Compounding the situation was a past history of "paper and process driven" B.L.M. management. Couple that with a new range con on the ground every few years with never enough time to build trust and a true working relationship with the rancher permitees. Remember that for 21 years concern over riparian conditions and the fate of the resident trout had been a concern of the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife, numerous B.L.M. resource professionals, and the Whitehorse Ranch itself. These concerns had been echoed by environmental organizations including, the lzaak Walton League, Audubon, the National Wildlife Federation, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Trout-Unlimited, Oregon Trout etc.....21 years of environmental concern and frustration with no significant change on the land. No change that is except for a number of study exclosures which showed the potential of the riparian areas.
Viewed with a historical perspective it is understandable why no change had occurred in grazing management. Cattle had been summer grazed on the mountain under open range conditions since the late 1800's establishing an accepted tradition which was backed up by legally adjudicated grazing preferences. The B.L.M.'s primary role during the 1940's, 50's and 60's was to license and administer these grazing permits. It was not until the late 1960's and 1970's that the importance of the environmental affects of grazing were clearly spelled out through environmental lawsuits and legislation. It was at this time that the mountain was fenced into several separate grazing allotments. However, the pastures were still very large, and the fencing in a number of instances actually concentrated cattle in the stream bottoms. Finally during the 80's, political appointees in the Interior Department sympathetic to the sagebrush rebellion frequently issued policies that were in direct opposition to the intent of existing environmental legislation. The B.L.M. was caught in the middle attempting to respond to a series of very conflicting signals.
Back to the scene being played in the small bordertown of McDermitt, Nevada that June of 1988. Wayne Elmore gave his 45 minute riparian talk in 2 hours. Angry discussion accompanied each slide, and the day ended with a number of talks, including Doc's, not given. There was no time to see how positive results had been accomplished cooperatively only 250 miles away. The frustrations of the past were so prevalent in the room that the message would not have been heard anyway.
The next day was a tour on the mountain. The riparian areas had limited numbers of willow and aspen and most of those were old citizens of the tree world. The history was one of 130 years of continual livestock grazing from June to October each year. Even though one of the objectives of the massive Vale range improvement project of the 60's was to provide management alternatives to rest the mountain from continuous grazing, these alternatives had never been used.
At the end of the day, Connie could stand it no longer. As a "Public Citizen" she expressed her right to try and get some changes made that could benefit the land and the people. With substantial help from Bob Skinner, President of the Oregon Cattlemen's association, and some friends in the environmental community, Doc & Connie were able to put together a meeting one month later at the 14th floor offices of the B.L.M. state director in Portland.
Present at that first meeting of what would become the Trout Creek Mountain Working Group were:
Whitehorse Ranch (two representatives)
The tension, energy, fear, care and concern in that room for four hours was overwhelming. At the end of the day it was obvious that changes had to be made, or everyone, and the land, was going to lose big after a long battle in court. Regardless of the grazing decision made by District Manager, Bill Calkins, ranchers or environmentalists were going to challenge it with a lawsuit. And under current procedures, while a lawsuit is in process, management reverts to historical precedent which would have meant several more years with no change on the ground.
Formation and Action of the Trout Creek Mountain Working Group
Folks from this meeting in Portland with the addition of a representative from the Oregon Environmental Council and family member representatives from three neighboring ranches in the Trout Creek area became the "Trout Creek Mountain Working Group". The group's purpose was to see that change in management occurred immediately that would "make a positive difference" on the land. The future of the trout and the ranching community and culture depended on improving the health of the watershed and its streams.
The Trout Creek group, working closely with the Vale B.L.M. and full support of the state director, was able to build enough understanding of the immediate need for watershed improvement that the ranchers involved voluntarily removed their cattle for a three year period of rest.
The Whitehorse and Oregon Canyon watersheds of the Trout Creek Mountain located in the Vale B.L.M. district completed their third year of rest the fall of 1991. Despite severe drought conditions, the response of 100 miles of critical riparian area was encouraging. A lot of credit for the results needs to go to the Whitehorse management who recognized that the past 130 years of traditional summer long grazing on the mountain was not going to be acceptable in the future.
The Whitehorse ranch made a major financial commitment to the recovery of the watershed by leasing another ranch during this three year rest period and drastically changing their grazing program on the lower reaches of the watershed. Four neighboring ranches who also run cattle in the watersheds on the northeast side of the mountain made unprecedented management changes to rest their areas of use on the mountain. These changes involved considerable water hauling and 100 pound reductions in weaning weights. This weaning weight loss came primarily from grazing dried up bunchgrass in August and September at four to five thousand foot elevation instead of the greener more nutritious bunchgrass and meadows at six to eight thousand foot elevation. The cattle were not short on grass, but it's feed value was considerably reduced.
During this period of voluntary rest the Trout Creek Working Group met regularly to help develop a solution for the land that included grazing. Some examples of the strength of a diversified working group follow.....Monte Montgomery (Izaak Walton League) has years of experience on the mountain and was invaluable in stimulating better communication between the Vale and Burns B.L.M. Districts. Mary Hanson from the Oregon Environmental Council has a very logical mind and helped facilitate the 'meetings. She also communicated to other members the importance of doing everything in accordance with legally mandated public planning procedures. Kathi Myron from Oregon Trout's genuine care and love of the wild Lahontan, and the importance of its habitat, was a message she clearly communicated to everyone in the group. And because of Kathi and Oregon Trout's diligence and review, their protest of the first plan made it a much better document. The original document was vague on what acceptable condition of the streamside shrubs, trees and grasses needed to look like in the future. Spelling out what was expected in ecological improvement assured trout habitat conditions and also gave the ranchers a clear goal to achieve. Because the plan received so much review, when the final decision was appealed by an out of state activist, the administrative law judge dismissed the appeal.
The District Manager from Vale issued a grazing decision for the Whitehorse Butte Allotment which became effective in late 1990. The grazing strategy was specifically designed for the benefit of the watershed and the fish which depends on that watershed for its existence. It is important to understand that the mountain received two years of voluntary rest before any formal grazing decision was issued for the Whitehorse Ranch. And although allotment management plans are in process for the four neighboring northeast slope ranches and two additional ranches on the south side of the mountain, formal grazing decisions for these ranches are yet to come. Despite the lack of formal allotment management plans, these ranches are five years into a grazing program 'which has been reviewed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as being compatible with Endangered Species Act requirements for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout.
These results were only possible because environmentalists, ranchers, the B.L.M., Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife all worked together to find solutions for the land and people.
It was in the late spring of 1992 when the moment of truth and the test of three years of working together arrived. In the seventh year of the worst drought since the 30's, cattle were returned to the mountain to graze pastures containing endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout. Turning those cows out as planned demonstrated to everyone that the Vale B.L.M. did indeed have the ability to follow through on a management program if it was biologically sound and had diverse public support.
The management strategy on the higher elevation mountain pastures is to graze from May to mid-July in an area for two years; then rest that area for two years. This program is based on the growth requirements of the plants and the social and eating habits of the cows. Willows and aspen do most of their growing after mid-July which is the same time when the bunchgrass is drying up and becoming less palatable. And like people, when the hills dry up and it gets hot, cattle find it more comfortable to congregate in the cool shade along the creeks. By removing the cows in the middle of July, new willow and aspen sprouts and seedlings are seldom grazed. The grass along the creeks, which was grazed in May and June, has time for full regrowth before fall. Since the bunchgrass on the hills is of excellent quality and palatability before mid-July, the cows spend less physical time on the streams and trampling of overhanging banks is minimal. The two years of rest which follows each two years of grazing, allows the upland bunchgrass plants time to fully recover from being cropped at a sensitive time in their growth cycle.
This program is what ecosystem management is all about. The biological assessment of the management program written by Tom Miles, supervisory range con, was extremely thorough and accurate which enabled the U.S. Fish Biologist to accept it. Bob Kindschy, wildlife biologist in the area for 37 years deserves considerable credit for having the interest and foresight to have conducted monitoring baseline studies over the years which now are being used to scientifically document that ecological health is truly improving. There is no substitute for an interested biologist like Bob who has spent his entire career in the area giving him the experience to relate past management and hard monitoring data with the dramatic wet and dry cycles that characterize southeastern Oregon.
In September of 1993 after the mountain had received three years of rest and the cattle had completed the first two years of the planned four-year grazing cycle, a two day tour was conducted with the Trout Creek group. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biologist directly responsible for the Oregon Lahontan program was satisfied with the results. Major positive documented changes on the land are a reality for everyone to see today. The streambanks now have sufficient young willow, aspen and grass cover that the riparian system was able to benefit from a modest flood event the spring of 1993. And the prospect of the land becoming healthier in the future is a lot more than just some dream on paper.
Unfortunately, the traditional season long summer grazing program on the Trout Creek Mountains that was in place five years ago is not that unusual in the West today. Most areas have not had as much public interest as the Trout Creeks. But the sad truth is too much ecologically unsound grazing continues to be licensed year after year with no changes.
There are several reasons for our current predicament in the West. Improving land management through laws and bureaucracy alone has not proved to be very effective. The B.L.M. is a politically directed entity which has basically been paralyzed since 1974 from the conflicting messages and constraints it receives on a regular basis from Washington D.C. and various lawsuits. This paralysis can be overcome through a consensus group such as the Trout Creek Working Group. When understanding exists between ranchers, environmentalists, B.L.M. managers & resource professionals, state & U.S. Fish & Wildlife representatives, decisions that benefit the land and people can be implemented without years in court.
"Social-Political" Factors Which Allowed the Trout Creek Group to Exist, Function, and Stimulate Positive Change On The Land"
"Trust, respect, credibility and communication are four simple words to write. They are incredibly difficult items to build and maintain. But for lasting success on the land, they must exist."
The Process at Group Meetings Which Makes Consensus and Action Possible
Everyone sits in a circle and speaks in turn. A question starts each meeting such as. . ."How do you feel about being here and what would you like to help make happen today"? According to conflict resolution consultant, Bob Chadwick, no one is at a meeting until their voice enters the room. By having to think about how you feel (most folks feel anxious and frightened which may be expressed as anger), the right brain is activated. The right brain is where our creativity is located.
Answering the question, "what would you like to help make happen today?" affirms that something is going to happen and you are going to be an important part of it. This is an empowering experience for the participants and changes the focus of the meeting from pointing out problems to developing solutions.
Ranch wives are specifically and personally invited to participate. Ranch men frequently are bound by tradition to the way it always has been which makes opportunities for change difficult to see. Women in general tend to be more right brained and better able to understand the feelings of environmental folks who are viewing the situation from a much different perspective than the ranchers. Everyone's feelings. . .Ranchers, Environmentalists and Agency folks. . .have to be acknowledged before true consensus for change can occur.
After everyone's voice enters the room, two or three "opportunities in disguise" (more commonly known as "significant problems") are discussed. This is in the circle as a whole, or in smaller breakout groups, but always with each person given the opportunity to speak in turn and be listened to with respect.
During the meetings of the working group, B.L.M. representatives participate in turn as people with concerns and cares, not just as B.L.M. employees doing their job.
Efforts of the group are goal oriented. The group's future "Big Picture" includes....
A. Baby Aspen, teenage Aspen, middle age Aspen and old Aspen, willows, trout, and wildlife throughout a watershed covered by a thick stand of vigorous perennial grass.
B. Baby, teenage, middle age and old ranchers and their livestock operating in an economically and ecologically sound manner.
There was considerable relief in the room when the ranchers had no problem working to achieve "point A", and the environmentalists had no difficulty with "point B". Descriptions for how the land needs to look throughout the watershed in the future were visualized by including statements such as, "How McDermitt Creek looks now at the upper access, and how the upper watershed looks now at the head of Oregon Canyon."
At the close of each meeting realistic commitments for accomplishing certain tasks and clearances are made by the ranchers, environmentalists and B.L.M. folks. The ranchers and environmentalists network with their peers to build understanding on what is occurring. The B.L.M.'s commitment prioritizes their work toward tasks that will make a difference on the ground. The B.L.M. is presently buried under paper work requirements without the staff or funding to accomplish those demands. For success to occur on the land, some sort of outside consensus pressure/support is required. Also it is critical that the State Director create an atmosphere in the state that supports working together and rewards positive change on the land.
The September of 1993 two-day Working Group Tour concentrated on looking at riparian areas which had been grazed in both 1992 & 1993.
Compliance in meeting the grazing objectives was 100%. The fate of the Lahontan trout appears in good hands. The U.S. fish biologist responsible for threatened & endangered species, Ron Rhew, was enthusiasticly positive, not to mention greatly relieved, over the results on the land. The ranchers involved felt the working group experience has been a positive one even though the management changes have been very stressful and expensive, and the ranches capacity and annual profitability has been reduced. However, the bottom line is that a management plan that meets the criteria for endangered species in a wilderness study area provides a stable basis for a sustainable ranching operation in the future.
It takes people to improve land. We already have more laws and technical information than we need. Time is not on our side in the struggle to solve problems on the public land. But the time is right for more "people to people" alliances where land owners, environmentalists and state & federal agency folks work cooperatively to produce action on the ground.
Plain folks can make a difference, and its exciting to see results like those on the Trout Creek Mountains.
As "public" citizens we have the power and obligation to take responsibility for the destiny of the private lands we own and the public lands we depend on for many needs. Local communities can determine their own future. But the definition of "local" must be expanded to include not only the people who live in the area, but the people in urban areas who depend on that land for their quality of life and relation to a~ natural world.
Success on the land comes when a diverse group of interested~ "public" acknowledge one another as human beings and develop a vision for what a healthy land and community needs to be. The main obstacle is overcoming the frontier mentality we've lived on in the West for the past century--- that the land is a source of unlimited products to be used for man's immediate benefit.
A special thanks to Elaine Davies, our Jr. Partner, for her help in laying out this booklet.
For more information contact:
Doc & Connie Hatfield
Trout Creek Mountain Working Group
OREGON ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL
IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE
Oregon Cattleman's Association
Bob & Sara Skinner
Doc & Connie Hatfield
Pete & Pam Talbot
Ken & Anne Bentz
Britt & Alice Lay
David & Avelina Etchart
Richard & Jeanette Yturriondobeitia
Jock & Karen Echave
Evan & Tillie Zimmerman
Fred & Judy Wilkinson
Gary & Marj Defenbaugh
Bureau of Land Mgt.
State Rangeland Management Specialist
District Range Conservationist
Supervisor Range Conservationist
Resource Area Wildlife Biologist
Prineville District B.L.M.
Burns District B.L.M.
Andrews Resource Area Man.
Supervisor Range Conservationist
Rangeland Management Specialist/Ecologist
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Senior Wildlife Biologist
Field Office Manager
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