Ranchers awarded for sage-grouse recovery

Mark and Patti Bennett

By Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Mark and Patti Bennett of Unity were recognized with the 2015 Riley Freeman Award during the Oregon Cattlemen Association conference in Bend.

In giving the award, ODFW Director Curt Melcher praised the Bennetts for being model stewards on their working cattle ranch in Unity, Ore. Melcher spotlighted their ranch’s role in the conservation and recovery of Greater sage-grouse.

“The Bennetts recently signed a Candidate Conservation Agreement related to sage-grouse and are enhancing habitat for these birds,” said Melcher.

Chip Dale, ODFW watershed manager for southeast Oregon, praised Mark Bennett’s participation on the sage-grouse rule advisory committees (both DLCD and ODFWs), “Mark was a strong advocate not only for Baker County, but also for ensuring the persistence of sage-grouse,” Dale said.

As a neighbor, County Commissioner, and private landowner/county representative on Oregon’s Sage-Con group, Bennett pushed for a reasonable approach to protecting sage-grouse habitat while also protecting the economic viability of eastern Oregon and working lands. He spent numerous hours working with the Governor’s Office, ODFW, BLM, USFWS and others on the Sage-Con group to find common ground between ranchers and others on sage-grouse issues. Through these efforts, the group was able to keep sage-grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Bennetts have also partnered with ODFW, Burnt River SWCD, OWEB and other natural resource agencies on numerous habitat and range improvement projects. Their successful wildlife habitat enhancement projects have included aspen restoration, juniper control, invasive weed spraying, riparian protection and other range improvements. The Bennetts’ ranch has become a showcase of how wildlife habitat improvements can also be used to improve range conditions for livestock.

The Riley Freeman award is named after a past Chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Wildlife Committee. Freeman saw the need for greater coordination and cooperation between private landowners and state and federal natural resources agencies. While he defended an individual’s property rights, he also advocated for partnerships between wildlife managers, landowners, and wildlife consumers. In his memory, ODFW and OCA established an annual award to recognize an OCA member that best exemplifies Riley Freeman’s passion for the cattle industry, good land stewardship and avocation for partnerships.

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