Watershed and library topics at WBS

Siege Schatza
IVN copy editor

On Aug. 2, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners heard a presentation from the Rogue River Watershed Council regarding how the nonprofit has grown since its inception in 2014. The meeting was held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
RRWC Executive Director Brian Barr recounted that his organization was formed when four small nonprofit watershed councils merged. One of the four, the Middle Rogue Watershed Council, served the “northern third” of Josephine County.
From RRWC’s humble beginnings in 2015, when it had two employees and a budget of roughly $450,000, the watershed council has grown to six employees and $1.56 million in annual expenses, according to Barr.
“Going back to just 2021 we’re up in terms of expenses about $260,000,” Barr reported. “Most of that added expenses, and in fact almost all of that added expense, is in the contracted services realm which is hiring local contractors to do work on the ground.”
Barr added that last year was RRWC’s first in which administrative and fundraising expenses made up less than 10% of the budget, “which is kind of a benchmark for nonprofits.”
The executive director attributed state grants to the $250,000 increase in revenues the watershed council saw from 2021 to 2022.
Barr explained that the watershed council focuses on harboring environmental resilience in the communities they serve.
“If you don’t think community resilience is related to environmental resilience I would encourage you to drive down Highway 99 through Phoenix or Talent,” said Barr. “They’re linked together; we can’t do all of that kind of work all at once restoring forests along streams that are near communities, but we’re doing it a little bit of a time and in fact that’s most of the work that we do. So, we’ve got about 15 active restoration projects right now. That’s up from 10 just a year and a half or so ago and 145 acres of riparian forest in restoration.”
A key element of these restoration efforts, Barr explained, is removing invasive species, mostly blackberries, and increasing the occurrence of natural growth.
Barr shared that one area RRWC restored along Bear Creek in Phoenix, Ore. just prior to the 2020 Almeda Fire seemed to be less scorched than other nearby areas because of the fuels reduction the nonprofit accomplished.
“We think that’s an example of how it’s not going to stop the burning that might happen in riparian streamside forest but we think we can change the character of that,” added Barr.
Other functions of the watershed council include protecting drinking water intake structures and working with irrigators on irrigation strategies that are less harmful to fish and other aquatic species.
Following Barr’s presentation, the commissioners asked questions regarding RRWC’s budget and sponsors. Commissioner John West wanted to know if any fishermans’ groups supported the watershed council.
Barr said that the Middle Rogue Steelheaders, Rogue River Fly Fishers and Southern Oregon Fly Fishers have all donated in the past.
“They see the tie, I think, directly to restoring stream habitat and streamside habitat to hopefully making fishing conditions a little bit better,” Barr said.
Board Chair Herman Baertschiger joked that he would definitely be in touch with Barr regarding strategies to remove blackberries, given his struggles with keeping them at bay on his ranch.
Two properties were annexed into the Josephine Community Library District during the meeting: a 1.02-acre property on Avenue de Teresa in Grants Pass owned by Martin Zottola; and a 0.58-acre property on Redwood Hwy in Selma owned by Jeffery & Joanna Marie Gavlik.
Library Director Kate Lasky delivered brief remarks during the annexations’ public hearing. “It is the picture of citizenship when someone like Mr Zottola or the others on the list are adding their property permanently so that they can be a part of supporting and benefiting from library service,” Lasky praised.
It is rare for property owners to testify on their respective annexations, but Zottola was present to comment before the commissioners voted unanimously to accept the annexations.
“Considering the circumstances in society today I believe libraries are vitally important to help people develop critical thinking skills to be able to think freely and make the right decisions,” said Zottola. “We need to do what we can to try to fix the common problems we face, so I want to be a part of the library district.”
During requests and comments from citizens, two members of the community – meeting frequenter Victor Zeisev and Cave Junction City Council President Jean Ann Miles – complained of poor audio and an “unacceptable” delay in posting meetings to the county website, which the commissioners said they would look into, perhaps referring it to the new I.T. director.
Towards the meeting’s adjournment, Dan Mancuso was reappointed to a three-year term on the Collaborative Economic Development Committee.