If you go

Deschutes habitat conservation plan meeting times this week:

• 2 and 6 p.m. Monday at the Inn at Keys Cross Station, 66 NW Cedar St., Madras

• 2 and 6 p.m. Tuesday at the U.S. Forest Service headquarters, 63095 Deschutes Market Road, Bend

The next phase of the nearly decadelong process of creating a habitat conservation plan for the Deschutes River Basin will begin in Bend and Madras on Monday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be hosting a total of four meetings — two in Bend, two in Madras — where members of the public can learn about the process of creating a long-term plan that will meet the needs of farmers and other water users, while also ensuring that the Oregon spotted frog and other threatened species living in the basin will be protected in the future.

“I think the complexity of the Deschutes Basin and the parties involved makes this a challenge,” said Mike Britton, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, a collection of eight irrigation districts that operate in Central Oregon.

Britton said the process for creating a habitat conservation plan for the Deschutes River Basin — a 10,700-square-mile swath of Oregon that extends from south of La Pine to the stretch of Sherman County where the Deschutes reaches the Columbia River — began around a decade ago.

Bridget Moran, head of the Bend field office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the public meetings will begin with a short presentation about the development of the habitat conservation plan, and the rest of the meeting will be devoted to allowing visitors to ask questions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various irrigation districts. The goal, she said, is to encourage informed written comments during a 60-day public comment period, which began in July and runs through Sept. 22.

“I’m anticipating a pretty healthy turnout,” Moran said.

Moran added that the conservation plan is designed to minimize impacts on five species native to the region: the Oregon spotted frog, bull trout, steelhead trout, sockeye salmon and chinook salmon. The first three animals are protected in the river basin, though Moran said steelhead is only protected downstream of Pelton Dam. She added that the eight irrigation districts and the city of Prineville have agreed to cover the latter two species in the conservation plan as well.

Martin Vaughn, a consultant for the Deschutes Basin Board of Control and the city of Prineville on the project, said long timetables for habitat conservation plans are not uncommon, given the number of stakeholders involved.

However, the Deschutes Basin process was slowed by lawsuits from conservation organizations alleging the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act by operating Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs in a way that harms the frog. The suits resulted in a settlement in October, Vaughn said.

One of the conditions of the settlement is that a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the irrigation districts allowing incidental death or harm to a protected species will expire July 31, 2019, making that date the target for a full-fledged habitat conservation plan, Britton said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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