SALEM, Ore. — One thing was evident during a May tour the representatives of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association took of the Prairie and Little Sheep Creek watershed in Enterprise with water quality program officials from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

What was so clear was that a vast amount of conservation work has been done by landowners. Even more impressive is that the Wallowa Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) officials found promising results of improved water quality through their monitoring program.

Bill Moore, the OCA’s past president, showed examples of how riparian areas have responded to grazing and total exclusion, along with the fact that weeds were a reoccurring problem in the non-grazed areas. Moore also showed significant challenges in addressing legacy issues, such as channelization projects funded by government programs more than 20 years ago, which are now believed to adversely affect water quality.

On the tour, Cynthia Warnock, of the Wallowa SWCD, described extensive efforts to establish trees and willows on several sites along the riparian areas, saying that less than one percent of the plantings had been successful. Kyle Bratcher, an Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife official, said there have been more favorable results in establishing woody vegetation with a new technique being implemented by placing wire panels around naturally establishing seedlings to protect them from wildlife, rather than completely fencing off a riparian area.

A local rancher pointed to one part of their riparian area excluded from grazing and explained how weeds, deer, elk and rodents have been a challenging factors in their conservation efforts. This was a unique opportunity to see and discuss side by side comparisons of grazed and non-grazed riparian areas, along with restoration efforts compared with actual conditions achieved.

OCA Water Resources Chair, Curtis Martin, said, “It was particularly encouraging to hear that the agencies intend to take a wide range of site specific factors, historical information, along with input from area stakeholders when updating local Ag Water Quality Plans and Rules. When it comes to setting TMDLs for non-point sources, it is important decisions are being based on measurable results of improve water quality and appropriate monitoring is implemented.”

The conclusion of the tour was just a few short miles away, where the group viewed the aftermath of a public land fire in the upland which has had a considerable impact on water quality throughout the entire watershed for decades. Those on the tour said the final stop on the tour drove home how significant factors outside the control of individual landowners can have on water quality throughout the entire watershed.