USDA partnership to help fund upper Crooked River watershed restoration

WASHINGTON – The USDA is partnering with the Ochoco National Forest to help restore the upper Crooked River Watershed as part of a $41 million investment in projects nationwide to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore healthy forest ecosystems.

The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership includes funding for 36 projects includes $10.6 million for 16 new projects and $30.5 million to complete work on 20 projects previously selected in 2018 and 2019.

The Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River Grasslands is among a long list of agencies, organizations and private land owners who jointly submitted a proposal for the USDA partnership funds.

Additionally, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley wrote letters of support for the proposal.

The project area covers about 766,000 acres – from Big Summit Prairie south to Highway 20, and from Prineville east to Paulina.

Patrick Lair, Public Affairs Officer for the Ochoco National Forest & Crooked River National Grassland, laid out all the work on tap over the next few years.

“Generally speaking, the work will be implementing landscape-scale fuels treatments across public and private boundaries to reduce wildfire threats, improve forest health, and improve wildlife habitat with merchantable timber products for the area’s mills; implementing stream and meadow restoration work to reduce juniper encroachment and reconnect stream channels to historic floodplains; improving wildlife habitat with seeding of native forbs and grasses, juniper reduction, aspen and hardwood enhancement, and developing some shared strategies for the conservation of different wildlife species; and using a variety of tools to eradicate and prevent the spread of noxious weeds across public and private lands,” he said.

Lair said he wasn’t yet sure which projects would move forward this year.

Headwaters of the Crooked River

Through the projects, USDA’s Forest Service (FS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are working hand-in-hand with agricultural producers, forest landowners and National Forest System lands to improve forest health using available Farm Bill conservation programs and other authorities.

USDA has invested more than $225 million over seven years to Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership projects, which focus on areas where public forests and grasslands intersect with privately-owned lands.

“This partnership has a strong history of accomplishing critical management work across boundaries,” said FS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “The collaborative approach exemplifies USDA’s shared stewardship model of working with our federal, state and local partners to springboard high-priority restoration work.”

The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership allows NRCS and FS to collaborate with agricultural producers and forest landowners to invest in conservation and restoration at a big enough scale to make a difference.  Working in partnership, and at this scale, helps reduce wildfire threats, protect water quality and supply, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species.

“This partnership has become a catalyst for turning discussions about restoration among a variety of groups into on-the-ground implementation,” said NRCS Chief Matt Lohr. “The selected projects are scientifically strong and allow us to work seamlessly across public and private lands to deliver positive outcomes for wildlife, landowners and entire communities.”

Through the new three-year projects, landowners will work with local USDA experts and partners to apply targeted forestry management practices on their land, such as thinning, hazardous fuel treatments, fire breaks and other systems to meet unique forestry challenges in their area.

This year’s selections bring the total number of Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration projects to 85. Since 2014, these projects have delivered important forest and rangeland funding to 40 states and Puerto Rico.

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