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BLM discusses sage grouse management with court

Matt Obradovich and Holly Orr of the Burns District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court Aug. 16 to discuss the adaptive management strategy for sage grouse.

Obradovich — who is the district biologist for the Burns BLM and a point of contact for the district’s sage grouse issues — said, “Adaptive management usually means, if you see something going wrong, you sit down, you look at what’s going on in that area, and then try to figure out what needs to be done to fix it.”

He said soft and hard triggers can be tripped when sage grouse habitat or population is threatened.

“The soft trigger says, ‘We’re moving in a direction we don’t like. We’ve gone some place [that] we don’t really necessarily want to go. How do we turn that around?’ The hard trigger says, ‘We’re beyond that gray area where we can turn it around. We’re really in trouble now,’” Obradovich explained.

He added that, for habitat, a soft trigger is tripped when available sagebrush cover drops below 65 percent, and a hard trigger is tripped when cover drops to 30 percent.

“Once you get down to that 30-35 percent…You start losing your populations of sage grouse, totally,” Obradovich said, adding that populations could decrease when cover drops below 65 percent.

Population triggers were set up by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Obradovich explained that, after looking at years worth of data, ODFW determined that populations should mimic 2003 numbers.

Orr reported that three soft triggers were tripped on priority areas for conservation (PACs) within the Burns district — the Steens, Trout Creeks, and Dry Valley/Jack Mountain.

Obradovich said a soft trigger was tripped for the Steens PAC due to wildfires, but habitat has been restored through juniper cuts.

“One of the things that they hadn’t taken into account at the state office was the number of juniper cuts that we’ve done,” Obradovich said. “Just in juniper cuts, we’ve gone back above that 65 percent,” he said, adding that additional cuts are planned.

Orr said, “We now no longer have a soft trigger on the Steens PAC.”

Obradovich said teams were convened to manage the Trout Creeks and Dry Valley/Jack Mountain PACs, and reports are being prepared. He added that there will be an opportunity for other entities to provide input.

The Trout Creeks PAC is being led by the Vale district, and Burns is leading the effort for the Dry Valley/Jack Mountain PAC.


Veterans Service Officer (VSO) Guy McKay attended the meeting to provide a quarterly report.

McKay also discussed funding and community outreach. Harney County Judge Pete Runnels invited McKay to accompany the court to the work sessions that will be held in rural communities this fall.

McKay reported that he plans to retire in a few years, and he’s looking to hire a part-time assistant who could be trained to fill his position.

He also noted that Grant County is currently without a VSO, so he will be filling in until an officer is hired. McKay is billing Grant County for the hours that he spends serving veterans in that area.

Runnels signed the county application for Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs funds for fiscal year July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, and Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh thanked McKay for his work.


In other business, the court:

• after making some minor language changes, approved Resolution 2017-10 in the matter of declaring a local disaster due to the total solar eclipse.

“Are we crying wolf? Possibly,” Runnels said, but he explained that the resolution would allow the county to obtain help, if needed.

Runnels also noted that he discussed the resolution with Harney District Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dan Grigg, so the hospital is aware of it.

• approved Warranty Deed 2017-1052, conveying county-owned property to the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center.

The county acquired the property (which is located at 472 E. Monroe St. in Burns) through foreclosure. The goal is to create a habitable rental property that would be managed by the Senior Center’s limited liability company.

Runnels said this is the final step in the process;

• approved Warranty Deed 2017-1053, transferring mineral rights from the county to Tyler and Enna Kaady.

When the county obtains a property through foreclosure, it retains the mineral rights when the property is sold to new owners. However, the new property owners can go through a process to obtain those rights.

As part of the process, a qualified geologist conducted an investigation of the property and determined that the rights are of little or doubtful value. However, the county set a minimum value of $300 for the rights.

The court held a public hearing concerning the matter during it previous meeting (held Aug. 2), and there weren’t any objections;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received correspondence from the Malheur National Forest regarding a timber sale.

For future sales, the court will request that the Forest Service specify which county the sale is located in and provide a map;

• resumed its discussion concerning flooding in Harney County.

In addition to ongoing efforts, affected waterways will be toured to determine how debris can be removed to adjust the flow.

Additionally, Harney County Emergency Manager H. Paul Gray will work with the cities of Burns and Hines to schedule a public meeting to discuss insurance options.

The next meeting to address flooding issues is scheduled for Sept. 19, at 11 a.m., at the courthouse;

• approved Genie and Vern Brown Jr.’s application for an approach off of Lawen Road in Burns.

Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella reviewed the application and said he doesn’t have any issues with it. However, he recommended that the Browns add a layer of aggregate;

• was addressed by Orr during the public comment period.

Orr informed the court that the Burns BLM was open Aug. 19-20 (prior to the eclipse) and selling maps. She added that an incident action plan was in place, a team was available, and the BLM was working in conjunction with the Harney County emergency manager;

• was greeted by congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner who attended the meeting to learn more about local issues;

• will schedule its rural work sessions for fall 2017 during the next county court meeting.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 10 a.m. in Runnels’ office at the courthouse. Rep. Cliff Bentz will attend the meeting to provide a legislative briefing.

Samantha White
Samantha White was born and raised in Harney County, and she graduated from Burns High School in 2005. After high school, she attended the University of Oregon where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in magazine journalism. White was hired as a reporter for the Burns Times-Herald in September 2012.

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