Sharing the River

Conserving Natural Resources Through Collaboration


2020 has been a rough and tumultuous year and, like others, we are ready to move forward. But, this challenging year has also brought with it some positive changes and conservation successes. Today we are thrilled to announce and celebrate one such accomplishment.

By Jodie Delavan, Public Affairs Specialist, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office,

Deschutes Wild and Scenic River. Photo Credit: Bob Wick/BLM
Overlooking the Deschutes Wild and Scenic River. Photo Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

The Deschutes River in central Oregon supplies fresh, clean water to people, farms, and wildlife throughout the basin. Although abundant, this precious resource must serve many purposes, including agricultural, environmental, residential, and recreational use. Protecting and managing its water supply is important to the local community, which has come together to assist in developing a durable solution that will provide long-term water certainty.

The Deschutes River Basin supplies water for a growing number of purposes, including those pictured above. Photo Credit: Agriculture — USDA, Sparks Lake — USFS, Federally-listed bull trout — National Geographic/USFWS

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing the completion of the Deschutes River Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Habitat Conservation Plans are voluntary agreements between the Service and landowners, private companies, or other non-federal entities that ensure harmful effects to threatened and endangered species are avoided, minimized, or offset. This HCP is a collaborative strategy to share water resources in the Deschutes Basin, covering irrigation and related water management operations while enhancing fish and wildlife habitat.

The Deschutes River Basin HCP encompasses approximately 10,500 square miles. Bounded by the Cascades Mountains on the west, the Ochoco Mountains on the east, and the Columbia River to the north, the Deschutes River Basin includes six major tributaries above Lake Billy Chinook.

Map of the Deschutes River Basin in Oregon showing the Irrigation Districts and area covered under the HCP.
The HCP covers the rivers, streams, and tributaries of the Deschutes Basin; 10,500 sq. miles.

The aquatic species covered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in this HCP include the Oregon spotted frog and bull trout.

The Deschutes River Basin HCP delivers predictability to water managers by providing certainty on a water storage, release, diversion, and return paradigm for the next 30 years in the Deschutes Basin. It accomplishes this goal through a combination of adjusted water management practices, increased funding for conservation projects and in-stream leasing programs, more gradual ramping up and down of the irrigation season releases, support for on-farm water conservation, maintenance of fish screens, and related items — all to better align the water management operations with the life-history needs of covered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages two federally-threatened species covered under this plan, the Oregon spotted frog and bull trout. Photo Credit: Oregon spotted frog — Freshwaters Illustrated/USFWS; Bull trout — USFWS

The City of Prineville and irrigation district members of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control applied for an Endangered Species Act incidental take permit that would authorize incidental take of listed species caused by covered activities. The term “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Conservation measures in the HCP were designed to minimize and mitigate potential impacts or the “incidental take” through harm of species covered under this plan that may result from their otherwise-lawful water management activities.

“The HCP will result in long-term benefits to Deschutes River fish and wildlife, the region’s water resources, and provide regulatory certainty for our farmers, ranchers and communities,” said Deschutes Basin Board of Control President Craig Horrell. “To meet the goals and objectives set forth in the HCP, the districts will continue working together to conserve and manage flows for the benefit of the entire community.”

The Service regularly engages conservation partners, the public, landowners, government agencies and other stakeholders to identify innovative strategies for conserving and recovering species while supporting important economic activities. Photo Credit: Hiker at Steelhead Falls — BLM, Farm near Sisters, Oregon — USDA, Biologists surveying for Oregon spotted frog — T. Waterstrat/USFWS

This effort has been a 12-year collaboration among a large group of diverse stakeholders — irrigators, municipalities, recreationists, federal and state agencies, and Tribes.

“This HCP exemplifies how the agricultural industry, conservation groups, and government successfully work together towards a shared conservation goal,” said Paul Henson, the Service’s Oregon State Supervisor. “The plan provides predictability to water users, durable conservation to aquatic species, and long-term ESA coverage to irrigators.”

Together with partners, and with substantial public involvement, we have achieved a viable solution that will provide long-term water certainty and protect wildlife in the Deschutes Basin. Collaborations like this are the key to successful conservation of our natural resources.

Photo of a tributary in the Deschutes River Basin, showing a more arid and rocky part of the landscape. Credit: USFWS
“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” — James N. Watkins, Author. Photo Credit: USFWS

Learn more about the Deschutes River Basin in this Story Map.

For more information, and to stay updated about the HCP, click HERE.



USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Region
USFWS Pacific NW Region

Conservation stories from one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.