For 25 years, since Tim Bodeen was a biology major at the University of WisconsinRiver Falls and Kelly Cain was a professor of environmental sciences and management, the two men have shared
a passion for conservation.
Today, that shared passion is manifesting itself in how Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is being managed in the high desert of southeastern Oregon.
Bodeen is Malheur Refuge manager. Cain is still at the university in Wisconsin, where in 2007 he established the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development. Together, they are making sustainability a guiding principle of the refuges comprehensive conservation plan (CCP).
Bodeen concedes sustainability is a shorthand term that may have 15 different definitions, depending upon who is doing the defining. And, he acknowledges, sustainability is incorporated to greater or lesser degree in many refuges CCPs. But in the Malheur Refuge CCPwhich is scheduled for public comment late this fallsustainability is central.
To Bodeen and Cain, sustainability means setting conservation goals for the present that enhance the conservation goals of the future, and even enhance the sustainability of public support for the National Wildlife Refuge System itself.
In 1908, when Malheur Refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds, conservation goals were relatively simple and localized: Establish boundaries within which native species are left alone to thrive. The best available modern science, says Cain, suggests much broader questions for conservationistsregional, national, even global questions about water control and allocation, reliance on imported fossil fuels, and climate change. Malheur Refuges CCP attempts to address those questions insofar as one refuge can.
For example, it will be the daunting goal at Malheur Refuge to produce more energy than maintenance of the property requires. Malheur Refuge encompasses 120,000 acres of wetlands, six dams and 1,000 water control structures by which water level is manipulated. In a refuge that stretches 70 miles from end to end, Bodeen says, calling a staffmeeting may mean asking people to drive 45 miles to refuge headquarters. The biggest part of his budget is for energyfor utilities, transportation and equipment.
A few simple fixesmore fuelefficient vehicles, better insulated buildingscan help reduce energy consumption. But more innovative ideas are under review for inclusion in the CCP.
Bodeen and Cain say the refuge could possibly produce more energy than it currently consumes by generating solar power (We have about 300 days of sunshine a year! says Bodeen), by harvesting invasive carp to produce methane for fuel, and by macerating the solidliquid carp byproduct of the methane production for local use as fertilizer.
The refuge is collaborating with numerous entities (the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Harney County Chamber of Commerce, local farmers, recreational groups to name a few) to craft its longrange plan for environmental conservation.
Too many people, says Cain, have supposed the Refuge System exists to benefit native animals and plants without equal consideration for the local communities (stakeholders) in which the refuges exist.
But we could send that carp fertilizer to local greenhouses, farmers, he says enthusiastically. We could use profits to subsidize local education, training programs.
And its not just Malheur Refuge that holds the promise of producing energy and profits for neighboring communities, he says. Refuges are rich in possibilities for wind and solar power, natural gas production. They have phenomenal natural resource assets!
Unless the Fish and Wildlife Service demonstrates how its relevant to solving the problems of the local communities in which its embedded, it risks becoming irrelevant, says Cain.
In other words, it risks becoming unsustainable.
Mary Tillotson is a frequent contributor to Refuge Update.