Deschutes SWCD Leverages Resources to Deliver on Local Soil Health, Fire Resilience, and Irrigation Water Management Goals

From extreme drought conditions, forest pest population booms, the resultant wildland mega-fires, depleted soil systems and water resources, Deschutes County, OR is no stranger to the complex and challenging resource concerns that impact so many transitional landscapes. Nestled along the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountain Range, the county boundary extends from forested mountain landscapes nearing 8,000′ in elevation through upland brush habitats to basin floodplains around 3,800′ in elevation. Addressing the diverse resource conservation needs of this service area has been facilitated through strategic capacity building and partnership efforts led and fostered by Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). While the hard work is far from over, this district continues to strengthen its involvement and long-term resilience as a steadfast local leader in Deschutes County conservation.

After forest health/fuels reduction projects sponsored by Deschutes SWCD.

With the support of NACD’s Technical Assistance Grants, Deschutes SWCD has developed three separate staff positions including a Conservation Technician, Field Office Assistant, and a (soon to come) Program and Operations Coordinator. These capacity increases have supported the district’s development of an Irrigation Water Management (IWM) Program in collaboration with five local irrigation districts, the NRCS – Redmond, and Deschutes River Conservancy. Through these critical efforts the district leveraged $300k of county-level fiscal support for water efficiency incentive projects affecting 15 growers managing 122 acres of irrigated farmland. To enhance local awareness and further extend services, the Deschutes SWCD hosted numerous IWM workshop events reaching 45 landowners in cooperation with multiple partner organizations.

Additionally, the capacity increases have enabled the district’s persistent contribution to the local “Buttes to Basin” Joint Chief’s Landscape Restoration Partnership project, resulting in 21 forest landowners receiving financial assistance, forest inventory support, and management planning services across 500 acres. Deschutes SWCD also sought and secured another $300k from Oregon Department of Forestry’s SB 762 Landscape Resiliency Program, providing expanded project funding for several forest landowners to complete more comprehensive forest health, fuels reduction, and wildlife practices. Learn more about this ongoing effort here.

Deschutes SWCD and partners help prepare raised beds for winter at a local school soil health workshop event.

On top of Deschutes SWCD’s focus on landscape-level conservation, community engagement and youth education also remain a top priority as well. In partnership with The Environmental Center, Bend Pollinator Pathways, Kaci Ree Christopher (author of The School Garden Curriculum), the district has utilized NACD’s Urban & Community Conservation Grant program to develop and present numerous soil health education workshops, support the establishment of at least five school-garden programs, and design elementary curriculum/lesson plans on responsible waste cycling. These robust efforts are only the beginning of a sustained and growing partnership surrounding urban agriculture and conservation in Deschutes County, OR.

The success of these programs and opportunities that Deschutes SWCD provides to the greater community comes from their intentional and sustained efforts, centered in strategic capacity building and the pooling of partnership resources/input. These efforts most certainly delivering upon the Deschutes SWCD mission – “To provide local leadership, education, motivation, and assistance to the citizens of Deschutes County for responsible, efficient stewardship of our soil and water resources.”

Photo credits: Erin Kilcullen – Deschutes SWCD General Manager

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