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KLAMATH BASIN REFUGES: Landowner's 'Labor of Love' Expands Habitat for Local Wildlife
California-Nevada Offices , February 25, 2016
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Klamath Falls area landowner Jerry Massini.
Klamath Falls area landowner Jerry Massini. - Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS
Landowner Jerry Massini (center) and Service biologist Jason Cox (right), describes his partnership with the Department of Interior  and collaboration work with federal biologists to a visiting group of a birding enthusiasts on his property located three miles south of Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Landowner Jerry Massini (center) and Service biologist Jason Cox (right), describes his partnership with the Department of Interior and collaboration work with federal biologists to a visiting group of a birding enthusiasts on his property located three miles south of Klamath Falls, Oregon. - Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

By Jon Myatt

Just off Highway 97, on Miller Island, three miles south of Klamath Falls, Oregon, the Klamath River spills out onto a valley floor. Farms and ranches spread out on either side of the highway, as bare fields and shallow ponds dotted with ducks and geese of all types, cover the basin all the way to the foothills and mountains beyond.

The ponds and wetlands serve as important resting and nesting places for millions of waterfowl migrating up and down the Pacific Flyway, and other wildlife. And some of these wetlands are the product of a unique partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local ranchers and farmers.

There are several ongoing wetlands restoration projects in the Klamath Basin involving the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in a unique cost-share partnership between the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private landowners. The ultimate aim of these agency-private landowner partnerships is to enhance and restore habitat for the benefit of federal trust species.

One such project is located on the Massini Ranch, a wetland restoration effort which includes enhancement of ponds to benefit migratory waterfowl on a 217-acre ranch within eyesight of the city of Klamath Falls. The Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has worked with the landowner to design improvements that have restored upland and aquatic habitats in and near ponds on the property.

This project involved leveling a portion of unit to increase the amount of time the pond holds water and to provide the landowner the ability to control the timing of when water should be added to the field at the beginning of the winter waterfowl migration.

On this cold, gray morning in February, landowner, Jerry Massini, ambles out from the green iron gate leading to his property – what he now calls the “ Magic” Hunt Club – and welcomes a bus load of visitors interested in learning how his partnership – a conservation easement – works and how it benefits both him and the wildlife that frequent his property.

Jerry, in his mid-60s, wearing a camouflage ball cap and hunting jacket, with a pair of binoculars around his neck, stepped up to greet his visitors.

Specifically, the Massini Ranch project enables him to add water to three ponds during the winter, which will provide forage for waterfowl during their Pacific Flyway migration. The project also benefits other terrestrial species on which waterfowl depend.

“We purchased the property 10 years ago with the modest intent of creating a waterfowl area that my business partner, my family and friends could hunt on, and then found out about this wetland program through a hunting magazine,” he said. “We eventually met with and developed a wetland restoration project with NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which included a conservation easement on the property, and in the end, we created what I consider to be a very admirable wetland.”

“We’re home to a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds, and a host of other species that benefit from a marsh environment,” he added.

“We manage the wetland area ourselves, with oversight by NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Massini explained. “We get help from Jason Cox, a local biologist out of the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge Complex, who has been instrumental in coming in here and helping us to develop and enhance the property so it is the most productive it can be for waterfowl.

Jason Cox, a private lands biologist with the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Klamath Falls, led the tour group out to Massini’s property, explaining the project as they walked.

The mission of the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is to efficiently achieve voluntary habitat restoration on private lands through financial and technical assistance to land owners. And at the Massini property, the Service provided both technical advice and the heavy equipment to enhance the dikes and canals that had been allowed to deteriorate when it was no longer farmed.

“We typically manage these ponds on a 5-6 year rotation; disking the bottoms of ponds helps to manage moist soil vegetation and setting back the successional stage of wetland plants allowing desirable plants to flourish in the wetlands and control the expansion of noxious weeds,” he explained. “Flooding occurs normally in mid to late September, and we try to put water on the wetland quickly to avoid excessive growth of alkali bulrush and cattail.”

When the seasonal temperatures cool in October, water management can fluctuate up or down with little consequence, he said, “allowing us to cater to shorebirds and green winged teal by providing shallow mud flat habitat.”

In the spring, he and Massini continue to keep water on the wetland, covering the entire pond area until temperatures in May or June permit a drawdown, “specifically germinating the favorable wetland plants we are managing for,” he said.

Though he was a “bit skeptical” in the beginning, Massini says he is now a believer in conservation easements and his relationship with biologists on the ground.

“We initially bought the property to just enhance it a little bit and do a little duck hunting, but now, as we’ve created this wonderful wetland with the assistance of NRCS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and guidance technical support from our local federal biologists,” he said. “It really has become a labor of love for me.”

As the bus pulled away from his hunt club, Massini gazed out across a pond where hundreds of geese and ducks had gathered to forage and swim. “This is great. It’s great to see the birds. It’s great to see the nesting activity that takes place all the way from now, February until June,” he said.

“We’ll hatch hundreds and hundreds of geese and ducks on this property, and it’s a pleasure to see those waterfowl growing up and calling this place home.”

-- FWS --

 

Jon Myatt is the Digital Communications Manager for the Service's Pacific Southwest Region located in Sacramento, Calif.


Contact Info: Jon Myatt, 916-414-6474, jon_myatt@fws.gov



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