Central Oregon LandWatch is the only group on the front lines in defense of Deschutes County’s wildlife habitat code protections. Last week, we filed an appeal of an alarming change to the county’s Flood Plain Zone to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
Have you heard about our incredible board president, Amy Stuart? She's been featured in a recent edition of the Source Weekly as a pioneer of conservation in Central Oregon!
Amy was the first woman hired as a district-wide fish biologist by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and spent more than 30 years trailblazing within the department. She is an avid hunter, angler and advocate for wild places, including the Ochoco National Forest.
As LandWatch's board president, she plays an important role in our case to protect the Ochoco Mountains from being carved up by off-road vehicle trails.
A Fisheries Pioneer
Amy Stewart was ODFW's first district-wide female fish biologist
By Brian Jennings, published in The Source on August 22, 2018
"I was told women belong in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant," recalls former state Fish Biologist Amy Stuart of Prineville. In 1983, she was hired by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as its first district-wide female fish biologist, based in Prineville. With natural resources degrees from Cornell and Colorado State University, she interviewed for the position and was selected based on her knowledge, leadership skills and passion for conservation. One problem: her boss was the lone negative vote, cast among a board of seven people.
Her first days on the job were spent with that new boss showing her around the district and introducing her to colleagues and community leaders. "He was really upset and resented that they hired a female—and two days after they hired me, he left and moved to Madras," she says with a laugh. That was the beginning of a 31-year career at ODFW. She retired in late 2014 and now volunteers as a board member of Central Oregon LandWatch, fishes and hunts with her husband, friends and two dogs. She's still a biologist at heart and shows up for the annual Crooked River fish survey of native redband trout.
Growing up, she describes herself as a tomboy. Along with her twin sister she was constantly in the outdoors, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Her sister eventually chose a forestry career, while Stewart became interested in fish and wildlife. "I knew I wanted to work with the critters in the outdoors," she says.
When it comes to bodies of water, the Crooked River in ODFW's Prineville District was a big focus for Stewart. Famous for native redband trout, Stewart's work has made a major impact on that fishery. As the lead author on the Crooked River Basin Study of the trout, she began tracking the redband population and health throughout the basin. Up to that point, no baseline information was available. Knowing the region was historically a major producer of spring chinook salmon and summer steelhead, she began sampling the redband habitat and populations throughout the basin. The plan she helped write set the guidelines for managing fish into the future throughout the basin.
Noting the constant push and pull between having enough water for agriculture and the fishery, Stuart's biggest concern is a common one: having enough water to sustain healthy fish. "That's a conundrum in Central Oregon because there's a certain segment of us that wants healthy rivers able to provide important stream habitat for fish and wildlife species, but we also have irrigated agriculture which is an important part of Oregon's economy."
Like many who fish, she wants more in-stream flow during the fall and winter months to sustain healthier fish populations. Low stream flows during winter months, when water is being stored in the Prineville Reservoir for irrigation, can lead to higher temperatures and mortality rates for fish downstream.
When the Crooked River legislation was passed in 2014, she says, it was meant to provide "surety" for irrigators in the Crooked River Basin. At the same time, she says, "It's probably increased the harm and risk for not only native redband, but the production of steelhead." She cites ODFW studies that say when water is released at 30 cubic feet per second or lower in the winter, it has resulted in a "significant drop in fish populations."
Stuart, like many others, is also critical of a proposed 137-mile off-highway vehicle trail in the Ochoco National Forest. Organizations and agencies such as the Oregon Hunters Association and ODFW have registered strong objections to the planned trail.
"Deep Creek in the Ochocos is probably one of my all-time favorite streams. I love wet-wading on hot summer days, fishing for little redband trout in that stream, and those are the places that should be protected from certain uses." A portion of the Summit OHV trail would run through the Deep Creek watershed and she worries about mudding and sentiment caused by motorized vehicles. "It's some of the premier fishing left in the whole forest and I'm very concerned about it."
Representatives from ODFW, her former employer, have been loud critics of the OHV plan, maintaining that motorized disturbance would also have a negative impact on some of the region's most important elk habitat. A decade-long battle over the trail proposed by the Ochoco National Forest may be coming to a head with a judge's decision expected soon, according to Oregon Wild, which is also in strong opposition.
You can also see Central Oregon Daily's video interview with Amy to learn more about this fantastic outdoors-woman and fisheries pioneer. We could not be more grateful to have her on our team.
The City of Bend has applied to continue using its archaic and imprecise method of diverting water from the source spring. With climate change, receding snow packs and glaciers will impact the springs meaning less and less water will flow over Tumalo Falls in the future.
A multi-million dollar public investment in water infrastructure should return every drop of conserved water to the river system
As one of only two cold-water inputs to the Middle Deschutes River, the health of Tumalo Creek is critical to the health of the overall Deschutes Basin system. It is imperative that Central Oregonians work together to find solutions to the current imbalance in how water is allocated. A recent proposal to pipe Tumalo Irrigation District’s canals would provide more water to the creek, but upon further analysis it may not be the silver bullet it appears to be.
Tumalo Creek provides a peaceful refuge, outdoor recreation opportunities, and badly-needed crystal-clear cold water to the Middle Deschutes River. However, during irrigation season, very little Tumalo Creek water actually makes it to the confluence with the Deschutes due to Tumalo Irrigation District’s water withdrawals (the City of Bend also draws water from the Creek). River advocates have identified returning flows to Tumalo Creek as one of the highest priorities for restoring the ecology of the Deschutes River.
Tumalo Irrigation District has recently put forward a proposal to receive millions of dollars of public money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to pipe all of its canals. The purported purpose of piping the canals is to improve irrigation system efficiency so that water can be conserved and returned to the creek. However, the District’s proposal ignores other less expensive methods of improving efficiency and contradicts its own statement that all of the water that will be conserved through canal piping will be returned to our rivers and streams.
LandWatch is committed to improving stream flows in the Upper Deschutes River Basin, and critically in Tumalo Creek, while preserving productive agricultural land uses into the future. We are deeply concerned that the first proposal from area irrigation districts to receive public money from the NRCS chooses the most expensive method for conserving water and is unclear about its commitment to returning all water conserved to streams. With millions of dollars of public money on the line, we expect that the full amount of water savings should go towards improving stream flows.
We will continue fighting for responsible use of our natural resources, along with the preservation of agricultural land. We will also continue to pressure Central Oregon’s irrigation districts to deliver real benefits to the public, which means returning all conserved water to our rivers and streams in order to restore healthy stream flows for fish and riparian habitat in the Deschutes River Basin.