Six Big Achievements Through the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative

In 2014, the IWJV launched the Southern Oregon–Northeastern California (SONEC) Working Wet Meadows Initiative to conserve flood-irrigated pastures and meadows. These working wetlands are the life-blood of both livestock producers and migratory birds in the Pacific Flyway. SONEC was named one of the IWJV’s highest priorities, requiring long-term investment, due to a bioenergetics modeling process conducted by our science staff and partners that displayed the continental importance of this multi-state area to migratory birds. Because over 70 percent of all freshwater emergent wetlands in SONEC are privately owned, and flood irrigation in historic floodplains creates ideal wetland habitat for birds, we knew it was crucial to work hand-in-hand with landowners. This partnership is a core tenet of our efforts in this region.

The initiative was borne out of the Oregon Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Strategic Approach to Conservation and has evolved into a large-scale endeavor supported by an extensive conservation partnership. Thanks to support from Oregon NRCS and an array of incredible conservation partners, we have accomplished significant, science-based successes through the initiative and will continue to do so for years to come. To track our work, the IWJV produces quarterly reports documenting progress. The achievements detailed in those reports have laid the foundation for continued investments by private landowners, agencies, and conservation organizations in this precious place. 

The SONEC partner biologists, Ed Sparks (L) and Kaitlin Hasler (R), are producing tangible wetland habitat conservation results, such as enhancing 8,300 acres of flood-irrigated, working wetlands in Harney and Lake Counties.

Establishing Field-based Partner Biologists

Based on other successful landscape projects, the IWJV and key partners recognize the importance of additional boots-on-the-ground to improve conservation delivery in SONEC. The funding pool to establish two new biologist positions, stationed in Lake and Harney counties, Oregon, came from the IWJV, NRCS, Ducks Unlimited, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District. In the short amount of time these biologists have been working, they have enhanced nearly 8,300 acres of flood-irrigated working wetlands. These positions have also helped build trust and credibility between private landowners, partners, and agencies.

Achieving Regional Conservation Partnership Program Project Funding

In 2016, the NRCS approved the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative Regional Conservation Partnership Program project. This leverages $2.6 million in Farm Bill program funding with $4.45 million in partner contributions. This funding will strategically target habitat conservation on 17,000 acres of privately owned wet meadow habitats and improve drought resiliency on working ranchlands. Using a platform of NRCS Conservation Implementation Strategies and other conservation planning efforts, this grant will help ranchers replace antiquated flood-irrigation infrastructure, improve flood-irrigation efficiency, and protect working wetlands with USDA conservation easements. Learn more about how this funding is being put to work here.

Hiring a SONEC Working Wetlands Conservation Delivery Coordinator

Early in 2016, the IWJV and our partners took a key step to expand and accelerate collaborative working wetland conservation efforts by hiring a place-based staff member in SONEC. Oregon NRCS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region 8 Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the IWJV, and the Wildlife Management Institute pooled resources to hire a full-time SONEC Working Wetlands Conservation Delivery Coordinator to staff the initiative. This position will build, strengthen, and connect science, field delivery, communications, and partnership capacity for working lands conservation in SONEC. This position will also support the partner biologists in Lake and Harney counties. The IWJV anticipates filling this position by late November. Stay tuned! 

Flood-irrigated pastures and wet meadows provide valuable livestock forage through haying and grazing management practices.

Expanding the Working Wet Meadows Initiative

Based on what we are learning while working in southern Oregon, the IWJV is working with California NRCS to expand implementation of the Working Wet Meadows Initiative in northeastern California. The IWJV met with NRCS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff in early May to discuss collaboration on project implementation through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, other Farm Bill conservation programs, and the Region 8 Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Supporting an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board Grant

In 2015, the High Desert Partnership worked with partners, including the IWJV, to submit an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board-Focused Investment Project proposal to address carp infestations in the Harney Basin and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and enhance flood-irrigated working wetlands. Find out more on how this grant is benefiting southern Oregon here. 

Approving North American Wetland Conservation Act Grant

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act continues to be an important funding source for conservation delivery. In 2016, Ducks Unlimited submitted a Standard Grant for Lake County, Oregon. Now funded, this project will restore shallow, seasonal wetland habitat on over 1,400 acres of private lands. This is the fifth phase in a long-term effort to conserve critical habitat in SONEC. The IWJV provides feedback on proposed North American Wetland Conservation Act projects within our organizational boundaries by suggesting potential additional partners, discussing bird habitat values and linkages, and providing assistance in preparing applications.

None of these achievements would be possible without the dynamic partnerships we have in SONEC. We work with a diverse community of conservation partners. These people share a vision for healthy working lands that sustain birds and other wildlife. We fervently believe that these partnerships are essential to meaningful conservation at a landscape scale.

Read additional articles in our 2016 Fall eNewsletter here:

Along the Rio Grande, Farms are the Future for Wetland Birds

Six Big Achievements Through the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative 

Joint Venture Recognizes Business Leader’s Conservation Contributions with Prestigious Award

Inaugural Washington Waterfowl Surveys to Guide Working Lands Conservation 

New Sagebrush Conservation and Communications Staff Join the IWJV Team