Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gonzalez updates Nyssa Chamber on BLM activities in area

Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:43 AM PDT

Vale District Bureau of Land Management Director Don Gonzalez addresses the Nyssa Chamber of Commerce during its meeting at the Thunderegg Coffee Company in Nyssa Wednesday.

NYSSA — Don Gonzalez, who has been manager of the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management for nine months, oversees a district that stretches from the Nevada border to southeast Washington and deals with such issues as wilderness and grazing and the operation of a major tourist center.

Gonzalez was the main speaker Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Nyssa Chamber of Commerce at the Thunderegg Coffee Company.

There are just pockets of BLM-managed land from Baker County north to Washington and west to Morrow County, but Malheur County has about 4.1 million acres of BLM land, Gonzalez said.

While most of the BLM in Malheur County is rangeland, the Vale district manages about 35,000 acres of forest in Baker County, he said, with some of it logged, but the agency also has contracts for biomass used in generation of energy.

The Vale district has about 150 permanent employees and 95 temporary workers, most of them seasonal firefighters. This year, there were six crews in the Snake River Valley firefighting program, Gonzalez said.

“Normally, we try to have 10. Our fitness standards are taking a toll,” he said, commenting the district has not had a big fire project for several years. “We also have an Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.”

Staff works in partnership with the Baker City Chamber of Commerce, he said, and the BLM has put “quite a bit of money” into the Ontario Municipal Airport for resurfacing projects. The BLM stations a single-engine fire retardant planes at the Ontario facility during the fire season and may put a helicopter there, Gonzalez said.

He also lamented the declining number of students in natural resource programs, saying it is hard to find people qualified for natural resource jobs.

Prior to Gonzalez’s talk, Jay Chamberlin, Owyhee Irrigation District manager, gave an update on the water situation. The irrigation season ended with less than 92,000 acre feet of water left in usable storage, or 12 to 13 percent of capacity. It should be about 450,000 acre feet, the 30-year average, he said.

“We’re at the bottom of the tank,” he said. “Pray for a good snowpack. Rains aren’t enough.”

However, the recent rains were welcomed, he said, explaining the aquifer needs to be soaked to help create a good runoff in the spring.

“It’s the life blood of the valley,” he said of water.

Irrigation district officials are also looking at retrofitting the power plant, situated on the side of Mitchell Butte, to try and get more power from it. Noting that the power is generated from irrigation releases, Chamberlin said it takes more irrigation demand to make more power.

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