Written by Jeff MackayPhotos by Alan Nyiri

Coronavirus, Covid-19, pandemic, CDC, at-risk, social distancing, quarantine…  These words and many others that we have likely never used in our daily communications and are now common currency. They shadow us as we navigate the path of our current reality.  

As a result of the Covid-19 virus current Refuge operations look much different in response to a paramount need to provide for the health and safety of Refuge employees and conservation partners as well as their families and other Harney County residents.  The Refuge remains open, however, as most of you know operations in the Refuge Visitor Center and the Cranes Nest Nature Center were suspended by mid-March.  

The next related action was an evaluation of Refuge programs to determine those that were mission critical and a determination of an appropriate level of staffing needed to accomplish the programs.  This action was necessary to further reduce risk of individual exposure to the virus and to prevent its potential transmission among staff and into the local communities.  Mission critical operations at this time include law enforcement, water infrastructure management, fire management, and administrative support functions.  Employees with primary duties under these programs are reporting to the Refuge on a staggered schedule designed to achieve social distancing while other Refuge employees are teleworking from home.

Employees on telework schedules are able to execute many of their duties assuring minimal disruption to Refuge operations with the exception of biological surveys.  Certain types of field work presents a challenge with regard to achieving risk reduction.  As we learn effective techniques for risk reduction, re-evaluation of other Refuge programs with regard to mission critical operations will be conducted to ensure essential Refuge operations are not omitted.

In other news, I am humbled to share with you that I have been selected to be the next Project Leader for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  I have been serving as the Acting Project Leader since Chad Karges retired in August 2019 and look forward to serving officially in this new role and continuing working alongside a truly dedicated team of Refuge employees and conservation partners.

All of us at the Refuge understand you have been impacted by the current situation but thank you sincerely for responsibly observing the Governor’s order to limit travel.  I do hope you are taking advantage of virtually visiting the Refuge and Harney County as an alternative way of staying connected to the places in the Harney Basin I know you love.  We look forward to seeing you again once the situation improves.