Malheur & Me: A Home Away From Home

Written by Glenda Sutherland/Photos by Don Sutherland

The full Harvest Moon rose bright orange over the southeastern Oregon desert just after the last pink glow of the setting sun disappeared. Don and I stood outside our little camper and watched the moon sail slowly higher into the black night sky, listening to the evening chorus of the coyotes float across the sagebrush. The pair of Great Horned Owls, who live in the trees surrounding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, called comfortably back and forth to each other like an old married couple discussing their day.

As the breeze turned chilly we followed their example, returning to our trailer for supper and sharing stories of the birds and people each of us had met during another day of volunteering with the Friends of Malheur. We have loved visiting Malheur NWR several times each year since we moved to Oregon fifteen years ago and Don has been a bird guide for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. So we were looking forward to working as volunteers for a whole month in June 2020. Unfortunately, we were disappointed when the COVID19 pandemic put a halt to those plans.

When Janelle Wicks, Director of the Friends of Malheur, contacted us this year about spending the month of September helping in the Crane’s Nest Gift Shop we eagerly accepted the opportunity. I have to admit that I did wonder about how well my aging brain would do with learning the new skills needed. As a retired medical professional, I had never worked in a retail setting. But I know that learning new things can help keep one’s brain young and after all, if I did mess up it wouldn’t kill anybody! I needn’t have worried. Janelle is a patient teacher and quickly had both of us feeling comfortable with operating the store on our own.

One of the perks of this job was getting to camp in the lovely little private volunteer’s RV park at the headquarters and meeting our neighbors there, all of them eager to do what they could to make Malheur NWR the awesome place that it is. The younger folk work on the more physically demanding outdoor projects, while there are plenty of less strenuous jobs for us seniors to do. I especially enjoyed chatting with people from all over the country who visited the Nature Store. We even had one couple from the Netherlands!

Don is an avid bird watcher and photographer, so he had a great time scouting for less common and rare birds, then helping visitors to find them.The month flew by faster than we expected and now we are home, looking ahead to next year. Will we do this again? You bet!

Please enjoy this gallery of Don’s images taken during September 2021 while he
and wife Glenda lived and volunteered at Malheur NWR.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Increases Public Access to Hunting

Written by Carey Goss, Malheur NWR Operations Specialist

Continuing the Department of the Interior’s efforts to increase recreational access on public lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently announced new or expanded hunting and sport fishing opportunities for game species across 2.1 million acres at 90 National Wildlife Refuges and on the lands of one National Fish Hatchery.

“We are committed to ensuring Americans of all backgrounds have access to hunting and fishing and other recreational activities on our public lands,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations. Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide a further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”

Increasing access to public lands and waters is a central component of the Biden-Harris administration’s approach to conservation, including the efforts to conserve 30% of U.S lands and waters by 2030. This new rule opened or expanded more than 900 opportunities for hunting or sport fishing. The expansion is the largest in recent history.

The effort in this new rule revised refuge hunting and fishing regulations so that they more closely match state regulations where the refuge is located. The rule revisions also ensured whenever refuge regulations depart from state regulations, for safety or conservation compatibility reasons, these extra regulations are consistent across all refuges in the given state. The Service worked closely with the states in preparing the new rule.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge new and expanded hunting opportunities are:

Migratory and Upland Game Birds

The Refuge expanded hunting on 40,895 acres that are currently open to hunting by extending the hunting seasons for migratory and upland game birds on the Buena Vista and South Malheur Lake Units to align with State of Oregon seasons. The expanded season will start for migratory and upland game birds in the Buena Vista Unit. The South Malheur Lake Unit is closed this year to waterfowl hunting due to drought conditions to protect habitat for waterfowl and other waterbirds on the lake. Upland game bird hunting is not permitted in South Malheur Lake Unit.

For the upcoming 2021-2022 hunting season, huntable species on the Buena Vista Unit are coot, dark geese, dove, duck, light geese, partridge, pheasant, quail, and snipe. Huntable species on the North Malheur Lake Unit are partridge, pheasant, quail. State of Oregon seasons and limits apply. Use and possession of nontoxic shot is required.

Mule Deer

Starting in the 2022-2023 hunting season, the Refuge will open 36,244 acres in the Buena Vista Unit to mule deer hunting through a lottery application system. The number of permits issued annually will be determined in consultation with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but will not exceed four tags. Applicants must possess a 169A Controlled 100 Series Buck Deer Tag for the Steens Mountain Wildlife Management Unit issued by the State of Oregon. Permit holders are restricted to the use of short-range weapons (archery, shotgun, and muzzle-loader). The use of rifles is prohibited. The season will start on the opening day of the 169A Controlled 100 Series Buck Deer Tag for the Steens Mountain Wildlife Management Unit and will close the Friday before the opening day of the State of Oregon statewide rooster pheasant hunt. This tag is not an addition to the 169A Controlled 100 Series Buck Deer Tag for the Steens Mountain Wildlife Management Unit. Hunters may only harvest one animal.

Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2016, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years. More than 101 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older — pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge manages hunting programs to ensure sustainable wildlife populations while also offering other wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands. The Refuge asks all hunters to follow regulations, and to recreate safely and ethically.

Please contact the Refuge for more information about hunting opportunities at 541-493-2612

Species Spotlight: Mountain Whitefish

By Rebecca Pickle/ Photo by Joseph Tomelleri

A fish that is a tubular, silvery, flash in the river “torpedo” is known as the mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni). The mountain whitefish calls Malheur National Wildlife Refuge home here in Harney County, Oregon. They are also found in many other states including Utah, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Most mountain whitefish on the refuge hangout in the waters of the Blitzen River where the snowmelt from the Steens Mountain Range keep the water cool and crystal clear.

Referred to some anglers as a garbage fish (they don’t actually taste bad and taste especially good smoked), it is only misunderstood as competing for food with its family of trout and salmon. Some suggest that the mountain whitefish actually have different eating habits and only compete when food is limited. They tend to eat larval stages of bottom-dwelling insects including mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and midges.

Although the mountain whitefish is not as well-known on the Malheur as the common carp or the redband trout, it is one of the few native fish in the Blitzen Valley. The mountain whitefish plays a key role in maintaining a healthy watershed. So next time you find yourself around the P-Ranch area be on the lookout for these fish.

Water Celebration

Written by Peter Pearsall/ Photos by Erika Fitzpatrick

On June 26 the Oregon Legislature passed a landmark $530 million “Water Package” that includes funding for drinking water, wastewater, and groundwater infrastructure projects across the state, including Harney County. On August 27, the Willamette Partnership and State Representative Mark Owens hosted an in-person “Water Celebration” in Harney County, taking guests on a tour to see groundwater management in action at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and on Rep. Owens’ farm. The event drew more than 50 people and served as an Eastern Oregon component of an earlier, virtual celebration hosted by the Willamette Partnership.

“This [Water Package] comes from the collective effort of legislators across the state to secure what some are saying is historic funding for water management, resources and infrastructure in Oregon,” Rep. Owens said. “Water isn’t a partisan issue, and a big reason why this effort succeeded is because it had bipartisan support.”

The August 27 tour visited Malheur Refuge Headquarters, where Project Leader Jeff Mackay spoke to the group about how groundwater is managed across the Refuge to support ecosystem function and wildlife needs. The group then reconvened at Rep. Owens’ farm in Crane, just north of the Refuge.

“In the Harney Basin there is a big emphasis on how we creatively and collaboratively manage our water, which is a dwindling resource that is currently overallocated,” Rep. Owens said. “The Water Package has several provisions that deal directly with some of those issues we face here; we’re looking forward to building relationships with some of the newer partners of this effort to conserve and manage water across the state.”

Celebratory Success at Barnes Springs

Photos by Stewardship Volunteers Jon Brown, Dale Derouin, and Cindy Zalunardo

To celebrate Public Lands Day, 14 stalwart volunteers met for a 3 day work party, which because they were so incredible, was finished in 2.  

The Barnes Spring Homestead area with its warm spring and old orchard is a prime birding location. Unfortunately, it was full of old barbed wire, some on leaning posts, some in coils and snarly piles, buried under grass or grown over with old growth sage and juniper. This debris has been creating serious problems for wildlife and human visitors but was no match for our crew! Without a whimper, this team filled a large flatbed trailer with barbed wire and old lumber left over from an attempt to roof a small sod building. In the evening, they enjoyed camping out under an almost full moon listening to the sounds of owls and coyotes.

On your next visit there, give a little shout-out to these wonderful volunteers, and remember, you could be one!

– Alice Elshoff, FOMR Board Member and Stewardship Projects Leader

Volunteers were enthusiastic about coming together at Barnes Springs Homestead but also to share with their friends and family. Long time Friends Member and Volunteer, Cindy Zalunardo, happens to know a descendent of the former residents who had this to share:

Have fun at my childhood homestead…..wish I could be there too.I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood on the ranch in Frenchglen…. My best memories are right thereon the place…raising animals, haying the fields, gathering cattle on the Steens….swimming in the warm springs.Life was good…..😊💖🐮🐴🐕🐱🌻

– Cyndie Barnes, daugher of Jiggs Barnes

Our team took great pride in the work they accomplished which included the installation of an Area Closed/No Swimming sign at the warm spring on site. Despite numerous websites and hot/warm spring regional guide books that may say otherwise, swimming has never been a permitted activity on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but it has never been offically posted at this site. Now that this sign is installed and some natural barriers have been arranged we hope to perserve this natural wonder for generations of wildlife who may depend on it and people who wish to view it.

This was our first time working on the refuge in many years, and it felt like a homecoming.  We even saw a sign describing some of our previous work trying to revegetate the Blitzen.  The team assembled was a pleasure to work with, with everyone playing the role of worker and leader as we worked through our project. We were especially fortunate to have Alice Ellshoff as our group leader, with her long history and depth of knowledge about the refuge.  We’ll be happy to return another time for another worthwhile project.

– Dale and Lois Deruoin

If you are interested in participating in a conservation work party in 2022, please follow us on FB @MalheurFriends or check back monthly in the Malheur Musings eNewsletter!

If you are looking for something a little sooner, our partners the Burns Paiute Tribe’s Natural Resources department and Portland Audubon are hosting TWO restoration work parties on Burns Paiute Tribal Land THIS MONTH! See the October issue of Malheur Musings or Email Twicks@audubonportland.org for more information.