In the early years after the Friends of Malheur formed in 1999, we assisted the Refuge by recruiting volunteers and completing a variety of small projects. But over the past few years the Friends have built a more robust organization to assist the Refuge as the number and complexity of projects has grown.
- Stewardship Projects
- Current Projects
- Completed Projects
Friends Stewardship Projects
As part of the Friends of Malheur’s growing Refuge presence and in partnership with the Refuge, we established our Refuge Stewardship Program. In the face of declining Refuge staffing and funding, the Friends recognized the need to take a leadership role in aiding the Refuge by adopting and maintaining several visitor facilities and Refuge public access areas. These are our Stewardship Projects.
In 2018, Malheur Refuge graciously provided FOMR with one of the historic CCC buildings at Refuge Headquarters which allowed FOMR to establish the Crane’s Nest Nature Center and Store. The nature center houses the nature store and the Friends staff and volunteer offices as well as providing a location for developing FOMR’s various programs and activities.
Another important function of the Nature Center is serving as a Refuge contact station for use information and education. The nature center grounds include a picnic and presentation pavilion, a pollinator garden and several bird feeding stations that attract many birds and other wildlife. It is also the gateway to the Marshall Pond Wildlife Observation area.
The Friends of Malheur operate the Crane’s Nest Nature Store where visitors can find an assortment of Friends and Refuge-themed merchandise, bird books, natural and cultural history books, unique wildlife art, and other nature-related gifts. Nature Store proceeds provide a major source of funding that helps to support FOMR’s programs and projects. As an additional source of revenue, nature store merchandise is also available through our online store. The Cranes Nest is seasonally staffed by volunteers and managed by our Executive Director.
The Marshall Pond Trail and Wildlife Observation area is located next to the Crane’s Nest Nature Center at the Northeast corner of Refuge Headquarters public area. This area encompasses approximately 10 acres including a freshwater pond, wetlands, trees, and dry upland shrub habitat. Visitor improvements included a wildlife observation blind, an ADA hard surface loop trail and bench seating areas. Wildlife-friendly trees of mixed species have been planted in the upland area. The Friends stewardship role involves annual landscape and irrigation maintenance, wildlife habitat improvements and seasonal upkeep of the visitor amenities.
In 2019, the Friends Project Committee built a pollinator garden at the Crane’s Nest Nature Center to provide additional habitat and a demonstration garden for insect pollinator plants. Now, FOMR volunteers provide seasonal care for the garden, planting new plants and transplanting plants from the garden to other landscape beds around the nature center.
In partnership with the Refuge, the Friends developed and installed a 42-mile self-guided auto tour along the Refuge’s Central Patrol Road. After installing the tour signs, the Friends added the auto tour to its Refuge Stewardship Projects and assumed the responsibility for maintaining the tour signs and providing the route’s audio CDs. In October 2017, FOMR volunteers replaced the original tour signs with 38 new signs, which feature FOMR’s logo alongside an illustration of pelicans with binoculars, people-watching from a red convertible.
In 2020, the tour CD audio presentation was also made available as podcast. In the spring, Friends volunteers conduct a driving survey to assess the condition of the tour route and signs. If sign repair or replacement is needed a volunteer work party is scheduled.
The George M. Benson Memorial Museum was built and dedicated to Benson for his many years of service to the Refuge. The Museum houses an extensive collection of taxidermy waterfowl, shorebirds mounts, and a large bird egg collection, all of which are from Malheur Refuge. The nearly 200 mounted birds are displayed in large glass cases which include background murals depicting the type of habitats where the birds are found. The egg collection is presented in glass top specimen drawers below the bird dioramas. In addition to the bird and egg collection, the museum houses interpretive exhibits and other information about the Refuge. The Friends of Malheur is responsible for maintaining the displays and the museum’s visitor area.
The Civilian Conservation Corp historical buildings constructed at Refuge Headquarters in 1937 included a native stone barn with traditional hayloft. Due to Refuge under staffing, the barn had suffered some neglect over the years. In 2019, the Friends adopted the barn and added it to our growing list of stewardship projects. We made minor repairs, removed debris from the barn interior and cleaned-up the outside area. In 2020, the Refuge painted the barn’s exterior wood structure. As a part of our stewardship role, we now monitor and maintain the barn’s condition.
To date, the Friends have adopted five Refuge trails under our Refuge Stewardship Program. These trails allow visitor access to excellent birding habitat, historic ranch sites, and panoramic Refuge viewing areas. Several of the trails include interpretive panels with information about wildlife, landscapes, and cultural sites. The trails under our care are:
- Crane Pond Overlook Trail
- Headquarters Overlook Trail
- P Ranch River Trail
- P Ranch Long Barn Interpretive Trail
- Barnes Springs Trail
The Friends trail team conducts annual condition surveys and periodic trail and interpretive panel maintenance. Our trail maintenance involves only light physical work, so most volunteers have an opportunity to participate. For a list of trails at Malheur Refuge, download the Hiking Trail Map.
Projects take many forms at Malheur Refuge from habitat improvements to picnic pavilions to fish screens on the Blitzen River. But no matter the project, Friends of Malheur is there to assist the Refuge in completing projects that are important in maintaining the Refuge and meeting the needs of both wildlife and visitors. Refuge project support is a major cornerstone of FOMR’s mission.
Refuge Tree Habitat Restoration – A multi-year Project (photo)
A conversation in 2019 between the Friends Executive Director, Portland Audubon’s Eastern Oregon representative and two Friends of Malheur volunteers, who are professional arborists, went from queries about the P Ranch Orchard to concerns about the remaining lifespan of the various cottonwood stands on the Refuge that support bird rookeries and provide bird major habitat. These trees and associated shrubs support a significant number of the 340 species of birds that rest, feed and nest on the Refuge. This casual conversation triggered a desire to determine how trees are managed on the Refuge.
In January 2020, a Tree Management Meeting was conducted between Refuge Staff, Friends of Malheur NWR Leadership and Project Committee, Portland Audubon, and the arborist, Jon Brown. During this meeting, it was learned the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) mandates a Tree Management Plan, which was yet to be developed.
During the planning meeting seven areas with substantial tree habitat were identified as critical to the long-term success of the birds that utilize them. The areas of concern are:
- Refuge Headquarters
- Sodhouse Ranch
- Buena Vista
- Witzel Homestead
- Benson Pond
- P Ranch & Orchard
- Barnes Springs
It was determined that the trees in these areas needed to be inventoried and then assessed for risk to life and property in addition to ecological and historical values. The inventory would include age classes, stem diameters, crown height, etc. This inventory and risk assessment information would be documented in comprehensive maps with an accompanying report. The planning team recognized that this restoration process would be a three Phase long-term project which included Tree Inventory and assessment (Phase I), Management Plan Preparation (Phase II) and Active Management (Phase 3). Phase 3 will be a multi-year initiative to implement the recommendations from the Tree Management Plan. Many projects, including tree pruning and plantings, will take place over a span of years.
With project approval from Refuge staff and the Friend’s Board of Directors and initial funding from the Friends of Malheur for Phase I, the project was launched in 2020 and will be completed in 2021. Upon completion of Phase I, Phase II will be initiated after acquiring necessary funding.
As part of the Oregon Adopt-A-Highway Program, Friends of Malheur Refuge conducts a bi-annual Highway 205 litter clean-up on the 4 miles adjacent to the south end of Malheur Refuge just north of Frenchglen. The hamlet of Frenchglen is the gateway to Refuge’s south end and the Steens Mountain loop road so FOMR believes keeping the roadside free of debris is an important visual message in advocating for a litter free Refuge.
On-the-Ground Stewardship is a term the Friends uses to define projects that have a visual and physical impact on the Refuge. These projects take many forms from visitor education like the Blitzen River Valley Auto Tour to habitat improvements like the Blitzen River Restoration efforts, but in the end, they all help ensure that we achieve our commitment to protect, promote and enhance the Refuge. In learning about our various projects, you will encounter the category labeled Stewardship Projects. These are projects that we have committed to annually managing and maintaining. Friends of Malheur volunteers are instrumental in achieving that commitment so we invite you to volunteer and help us support the Refuge.
In 2018, a plan was germinated by the Friends Project Committee to build a pollinator garden at the Crane’s Nest Nature Center to provide additional habitat and a demonstration garden for insect pollinators. The Friends Project Committee developed a project proposal and made a presentation to Worthy Garden Club in Bend, Oregon. Worthy Garden Club agreed to become the primary project sponsor and provided a lead grant. Over the course of three weekends in the Spring of 2019, a dedicated volunteer team constructed and planted the garden. The Worthy Garden Club Pollinator Garden is located adjacent to the Friends of Malheur NWR Crane’s Nest Nature Center. The garden has a plant identification interpretive panel which provides general native plant information. For visitors who are interested in their own home pollinator garden, there is collection of informative material about native and non-native pollinators plants and the insect they support available in the Nature Center.
In Spring 2015, FOMR volunteers installed a three-panel information kiosk at the Refuge Wayside, located in Frenchglen across the highway from the Historic Frenchglen Hotel. In addition to the Interpretive kiosks, the wayside provides wildlife viewing opportunities and parking for one of the trailheads to the Barnes Springs historic ranch site.
In May 2014, FOMR volunteers assisted in tagging, measuring, and recapturing carp for a research project at Malheur Lake. For the project, Malheur NWR and FOMR partnered with several other organizations to mark/recapture 10,000 carp to collect age/length data to determine carp population estimates in the lake, and whether commercial fishing is a viable carp control strategy. Common carp, an invasive species, threaten the aquatic health of waterways in Harney Basin by impacting aquatic vegetation, which migrating waterfowl depend on for food and shelter.
In 2005, the Friends of Malheur wrote the brochure and procured the original signs for Malheur Refuge’s Auto Tour Route, a 42-mile self-guided auto tour along the Refuge’s Center Patrol Road. Nineteen stops mark the way and are interpreted in a CD available at no charge at the Crane’s Nest Nature Center and online as a Friends of Malheur Podcast. The audio interpretive presentation touches on the natural and cultural history and geology of the area, provides information about the plant and animal life found on the Refuge and highlights various Refuge management priorities.
The Friends of Malheur was the catalyst in bringing together Refuge staff, the Oregon Department of Transportation, County Transportation Commission, Harney County Court, and the Harney County Chamber of Commerce to secure safe off-road parking at The Narrows for wildlife viewing. This project was made possible by donations of time, equipment, and dollars from the above participants as well as dedicated funds from the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. The viewing and parking area was completed in October 2003, and interpretative panels were installed in spring 2007. The interpretive panels were upgraded and replaced in 2019.
A fast-learning, hard-working crew of volunteers from the Central Oregon Flyfishers (COF), organized by Jen Bock, ODFW-STEP Biologist, and Gene McMullen of the COF, planted hundreds of willow, dogwood, and elderberry cuttings raised in the Friends of Malheur’s native plant nursery along two miles of the Blitzen River. The goal was to restore native riparian vegetation to one of southeast Oregon’s treasured Great Basin redband trout streams and provide high-quality woody and herbaceous shrubs to benefit numerous wildlife species.
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