5-mile-fence-projectBaker, OR – The Divide Fence Project, located east of Joseph, Oregon along the 39 Road (Wallowa Mountain Loop road) on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is nearing completion and looks great! The fence will span seven miles – five of the miles along Little Sheep Creek have been completed, one mile along Big Sheep Creek, and one mile along Salt Creek are still in the works.

This project is an outstanding example of teamwork and collaboration. Wallowa County, Wallowa Resources, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), the local ranching community, the Eagle Cap Nordic Club, the Forest Service, and others all joined hands to work together and make this project successful.

The fence traverses a variety of landscapes and terrain including woodland forests, riparian areas, mountain meadows, and steep hillsides. The intent of the fence is to protect fish and riparian habitat while providing opportunities for grazing, recreation, and other activities along the 39 Road near the Salt Creek Summit area.

“We are helping to protect sensitive fish populations and stream habitat by providing a tool to help local permittees be more successful with their grazing operations. The new fence will limit cattle access to streams and helps the permittee better manage cattle distribution on the allotment” said Ken Gebhardt, Wallowa Valley District Ranger. Local streams are known to provide important spawning and rearing habitat for federally listed fish species like bull trout, steelhead, and Chinook salmon.

“Ranching is a way of life here in Wallowa County and by helping to ensure that cattle continue to graze in a sustainable way will also help to ensure the future of grazing on national forest lands,” said Gebhardt. “It is also important that the Salt Creek Summit Area continues to provide for multiple uses including grazing, mountain biking, skiing, snowmobiling, and other activities,” added Gebhardt.

Public input on this project began in January of 2011 and has been critical to its success. In October 2011, a field trip to the site was held and comments were collected from several interest groups including ranchers, recreationists, and environmental groups.

Riparian areas are important on the landscape and provide for wildlife habitat, landscape diversity, and scenic quality in forested areas. Modification of natural stream flows, grazing, and forest clearing along many rivers in the western U.S. in the past has contributed to loss and over-simplification of riparian areas and to declines and endangerment of riparian-dependent species like salmon and bull trout. Riparian areas are a small percent of the landscape, yet are typically more productive and biologically diverse, supporting a disproportionately larger number of plants and animals than the surrounding upland forest habitat.

“This project is a real win-win for everyone involved: permittees will be more successful grazing cattle and we are protecting important fish and riparian habitat while accommodating other recreational uses in the area” said Gebhardt.

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