Marshall Pond Work Party

Are you are looking for an excuse to enjoy the Refuge one more time this season? Please join us for a beautification project at headquarters. We’ll be planting potted willows which will screen the Marshall pond from the trail and provide habitat for nesting songbirds, transplanting clumps of our native Great Basin rye grass, and planting perennial flowers around the nature center to keep our pollinators happy.

We can arrange a trip up to the Steens where the aspens will be in all their autumn glory.

We have the tools you will need and can provide housing for the first 7 folks that sign up; which you can do by contacting Alice Elshoff at 541 389-3543 or

Change – A Consistent Constant.

Change – A Consistent Constant.

On August 31, 2019, Chad Karges, Project Leader for Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, retired. His career, spanning over 30 years, has been entirely in the National Wildlife Refuge System within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to Malheur NWR, Chad worked on five other Refuges: Buffalo Lake and Matagorda Island in Texas, Kirwin in Kansas, Charles M Russell in Montana, and Salton Sea in California. His 20 year tenure at Malheur NWR began in 1999 as the Deputy Project Leader and in 2014 he was promoted to Project Leader.

The list of Chad’s accomplishments throughout his career is likely much longer than the Donner und Blitzen River. In my opinion, however, his most significant accomplishment was his vision and dedication to form ecological, economic and social partnerships. Chad departs the Refuge leaving a solid foundation for working with partners to deliver conservation not only on the Refuge but throughout the Harney Basin.

When it came time to prepare the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) – the management plan that guides management of the Refuge – Chad along with interested partners recognized that a new model of planning would be needed if the process to develop the CCP was to achieve success. In the beginning it was not easy but failure was not an option. His ability to form meaningful relationships resulted in strong alliances among many partners formally known as the CCP Collaborative. In 2012, the CCP was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and stands as a testament to the shared dedication, persistence, and lasting relationships of the CCP Collaborative partners. Consequently, the experience gained and the formative success earned from the CCP process has lead others in Harney County to utilize collaboration in order to resolve other complex problems.

Some now may wonder, without Chad, what will become of the partnerships embodied by the CCP Collaborative? I asked a similar question at the High Desert Partnership Summit in 2017 shortly after my arrival at the Malheur NWR. Chad’s response was essentially this: even when one of its members departs, the strength of a successful collaborative is the relationships of its remaining members and their collective commitment to resolve complex problems.

Change is a constant, however, I believe the CCP Collaborative will continue to function and achieve success through change because of a strong foundation and because of the dedication of those whom remain. Although Chad is moving on, his legacy of uniting diverse partners to resolve complex problems remains.

Cheers Chad! Best wishes from all of us in retirement!

By Jeff Mackay; Acting Project Leader, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Ode to Sod House Ranch

Half August
We come together
Clearing the trail for opening day~ August 15.
We imagine 100's visiting this vast Historical Wonder.
Cool morning; Hot afternoon.
Thunder heads boil the horizon,
Birds disguise their identity as silhouettes fronting the sun,
We are blinded.
Light & Beauty dazzle.
Flit, flash, flutter.
Ethereal shadows hide from our view,
on the far side of huge Cottonwoods.
Vultures are tree ornaments.
Rustling feathers and leaves.Feathers fall to Earth.
Huge white egrets bursting with pride offer fish "THIS BIG" to gangly chicks.
Squawking for ever bigger fish,
or perhaps a fat pack rat.
Youngsters settle as their parents describe "the one who got away".
Sauntering Sandhills grace new cut fields with the style of thoroughbred racehorses.
Their sounds drown out the squabbling egrets.
Nuthatches "peent".
Raptors bear witness.
Oh right...opening gates,
unlock doors.
Here's a notebook.
Step by step descriptions &
Photos show how to begin.
The Office, Bunkhouse, and Original Homestead have to be arranged.
Packrats reluctantly leave the safety of roofed enclosures...Sigh,
if only they were considerate guests!
They sure are cute!
Flash! Boom, crash!
Thunderheads, now lightning!
We pack and flee as the Earth is drenched with life giving rain.
Come to see the long manger,
Designed to hold wagon loads of hay necessary to feed 300 working horses.
Come to meet "Pedro", the only steer fit to represent the 10 vaqueros no longer bunking in the bunkhouse.
Bring your spotting scopes, binoculars, and curiosity.
Mornings refresh. 
Afternoons scintilate.
Sodhouse Ranch awaits You.

Written by Dale Broszeit, FWS & FOMR Volunteer

Introducing Brett Dean, Refuge Law Enforcement

Written by Peter Pearsall/Photo courtesy of Sage Brown @SageBrown

Editor’s note: Please welcome Brett Dean, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge’s new Law Enforcement Officer! What follows is an interview with Brett that has been edited for clarity and length.

Peter Pearsall: Brett, tell us about where you’re from and how you came to Malheur Refuge.

Brett Dean: I was born in Georgia, raised in Florida. A couple of years after graduating high school, I hired on with the Florida Dept of Corrections; worked at Florida State prisons for six years.

From there I went on to become a military police officer with the Army Reserve for 12 years. Went to Irag in 2008, mobilized from 2008-2009. Afghanistan was 2014-15. Cuba was 2015-16.

I started out in law enforcement but what I really wanted was to be a game warden. Life kept taking me in different directions, though. Met my wife, had kids, all that stuff. I kept getting deployed. I applied for a position with the Department of Defense Marine Corps Police Department and worked there for about a year.

I eventually heard about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Refuge Law Enforcement from some federal officer friends of mine. I discovered the Conservation Law Enforcement Program with USFWS and enrolled in it. My wife and I talked about it—we hadn’t been to many places in the U.S. besides Florida and Georgia, so we rolled the dice when searching for an assignment and put down that we were willing to go anywhere in the US. When the assignment came, I was told I was going to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma but was reassigned to Malheur Refuge. So that’s how I ended up out here. We wanted to see something different, see places we’ve never been.

PP: Describe a typical day on the job for you.

BD: Myself and John Megan (the other Malheur Law Enforcement Officer) are involved in a lot of patrols. The two of us cover Malheur, Hart and Sheldon—about a million acres total. From my house to Sheldon is a couple-hour drive. We put about 30,000 miles a year on our trucks just trying to keep the Refuges covered.

With the hunt seasons we spend a lot of time gone; just about every weekend John and I are staying in the bunkhouse at Hart or Sheldon during the hunt season so we can keep the coverage going. It’s definitely a challenge—every Refuge is different, from Malheur to Hart to Sheldon. Right now, I’m very familiar with Malheur Refuge, getting a grasp of Hart Refuge, but still getting to know Sheldon at this point.

Plus I’ve been assisting during the holidays at Deer Flat in Boise. I’ve done two details there so far, for Memorial Day and July 4th.

PP: Tell us a bit of what you do outside of work. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

BD: So, I’m a country boy. I grew up in the woods, on a hay farm. I grew up riding horses. I like wakeboarding, hunting and fishing. I missed the deadline to get my tags this year, but hopefully next year I can get set up to do some hunting in Harney County. This is a different style of hunting than what I’m used to back home: you sit in a deer stand and you put out a corn pile and you rarely take a shot with a bow over 20 yards. Out here they shoot anywhere between 40-60-yards on a bow.

I spend lots of time with my wife and kids. My wife has been a strong supporter of my career and she’s helped me get here. She put up with all the deployments and being gone and raising the kids by herself when I was gone. And it all eventually got me here.

It’s been an eye-opening experience, especially coming from the South. We don’t have a whole lot of fields. I get out here and I’m like, “Where’s the trees?”

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This is my dream job. It’s an opportunity to live and work in a part of the country I’ve never been to. To be able to get into conservation law enforcement—I always wanted to be a game warden, like I said. I’d almost given up on that until I found out about USFWS.

Officer Brett Dean chatting with the Tribal Stewards about his job and the path he took to achieve his career goals.

Mudflats and Shorebirds

Written by Peter Pearsall/Photo by Peter Pearsall

As summer reaches its peak in the Harney Basin, the enormous shallow expanses of Malheur, Harney and Mud lakes begin their annual contraction. By late July most of the snow on Steens Mountain and the southern Blue Mountains has melted, slowing the freshwater input to these terminal lakes. High temperatures and strong winds conspire to hasten evaporative losses from the surface; as the lakes shrink, hundreds of acres of mudflats are exposed. What looks like a barren expanse of goopy muck is in fact critical habitat for migrating shorebirds.

The saturated, fine-grained sediment of a mudflat is rich in tasty invertebrates: crustaceans, worms and mollusks by the acre. While most shorebird species probe the flats for these macroinvertebrates, it turns out that some—including dunlin and Western sandpiper—actually make their meals out of the mud itself. For them, it’s not what’s in the mud that matters most; it’s what’s on the mud.

On mudflats around the world, a veneer of single-celled algae (diatoms, to be more specific) and bacteria known as biofilm coats the surface of the mud. This photosynthesizing matrix of microbes, bound together by a mucous-like carbohydrate, provides the foundation of all life in the mudflat. The diatoms oxygenate the shallows and sequester carbohydrates and fatty acids. These energy-rich algae are then consumed by zooplankton and everything on up—including Western sandpipers and dunlin. The tongues of these shorebirds even sport keratinous bristles to help lap up the diatomaceous goo.

A study conducted in the Fraser River Delta of British Columbia found that biofilm comprises almost 60 percent of the diets of dunlin and Western sandpipers wintering there. But the Fraser River mudflats are no sure thing: Areas where biofilm is most concentrated are being considered as sites for new shipping terminals—a change that may pose serious risks to migrating shorebirds. This loss of intertidal mudflats to development or sea level rise is occurring across the globe; a study published in the journal Nature in early 2019 found that the extent of mudflats in some countries declined by as much as 16 percent from 1984 to 2016.

The loss of mudflats is but one of many challenges facing shorebirds today. Due to a range of factors, from habitat loss or degradation at wintering and breeding grounds, to delayed prey abundance as a result of climate change, shorebird populations across North America have declined by an average of 70% since 1973. Species that breed in the Arctic, such as the aforementioned sandpipers, are among the hardest hit.