Working together for wildlife

April 12, 2006 12:00 am
Chuck Rouse explains the purpose of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program before students grab shovels and head for field work on Rouse's property near Richland. Students, from left, are Freddie Butler, Austin Baggerly, Justin Gilbert and Brax Baird. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Chuck Rouse explains the purpose of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program before students grab shovels and head for field work on Rouse's property near Richland. Students, from left, are Freddie Butler, Austin Baggerly, Justin Gilbert and Brax Baird. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

RICHLAND — With a little help from the government and the strong backs of four alternative school students and their teacher, Chuck Rouse is working to transform his 200 acres near Richland.

Along the way he's devoting about 30 percent of his property to quail and pheasant habitat.

Rouse, Baker County's former economic development director and long-time businessman, enlisted the help of four alternative school students for two days last week to help finish a job he and his wife, Lou Ann, have been working on this soggy spring: planting 1,700 trees along a ditch that flows through the property north of Richland. Rouse also had to tear out fencing last winter to reconfigure the pastures where he intends to allow about 160 visiting cows to graze this summer.

The four students — Freddie Butler, Austin Baggerly, Justin Gilbert and Brax Baird — are part of the Baker Youth Community Action Project, under the direction of teacher Ben Titus of the Training and Employment Consortium.

Together with the Rouses and Titus, the four boys helped to plant the last 450 trees that will one day be home to Eagle Valley birds.

"If just 30 percent of these trees live," Rouse told the boys, "someday we'll have a forest."

At the outset of the first work day last week, Rouse gave each boy a sharpened shovel and a lesson on how to give the saplings — red osier dogwood, some Nanking cherry, and spruce — the best chance for survival.

He also gave the laborers a gift they would appreciate more and more as the day wore on — he augered about 450 holes in his ground before the crew arrived.

"Look," he told the boys with a grin. "I drilled all the holes. I've already saved you a lot of work."

But there was enough for the boys to do just putting all the saplings in the ground the way they'd been taught. Still, the students seemed to enjoy time away from their textbooks.

"It's a pretty cool project," Butler said during a morning break from planting. "It's better than school. We're learning some social skills, too."

There are lessons behind the physical labor, of course. Titus said that students had recently studied the biology of riparian areas.

"This goes right along with their classes," he said. "Instead of just reading about it, they get to come out and do it."

To help pay for the project, Rouse tapped into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Project, a federal program that develops conservation buffers adjacent to eligible streams.

The primary purpose of CREP, said Josh Hanning, director of the Baker City Farm Service Agency office, is to provide cost-share dollars to protect and enhance wildlife habitat and water quality in and around bodies of water.

Those buffers exclude livestock, which is why Rouse had to take down the fence this past winter and built others to keep cows away from the ditch. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays an annual rental payment in exchange for idling the eligible acres.

While the federal government provides up to 50 percent of the cost-share dollars, it didn't help pay for the system to get water from the ditch to the excluded livestock — just the cattle exclusion.

The Oregon Water Enhancement Board came through with cost-share funds to redesign the irrigation system.

Rouse also got technical help from Alan Bahn of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, who walked the property with Rouse and designed for him the much more efficient irrigation system — one with just four valves. The previous one had 47 valves.

The new gravity-fed system will use one-third the volume of water and still water the same number of cows — 160 — as before. The difference is that those cows will be kept away from Rouse's mini forest and the quail and pheasant that will one day call the place home.

"I'm just trying to utilize the ground for what it's designed for," Rouse said. "I guess ultimately it's my son (Kipp) who will really enjoy this some day.'