Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon’s threatened fish, sage grouse and forests recovering from wildfires are among the beneficiaries of millions in federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agency announced Aug. 18 that four groups working on conservation projects across the state would receive $11 million to complete projects that will improve water quality, fish migration, grouse habitat and forest health. The groups are among 41 nationwide that were selected to receive funding.

Nearly half the money will go to the Portland-based nonprofit Sustainable Northwest, which is getting $5 million to propose solutions for reforestation and wildfire recovery in parts of the Cascades still impacted by the 2020 Labor Day fires.

The Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District is getting nearly $1.5 million to remove dams and culverts in the Gale Creek Watershed that are limiting salmon, steelhead and lamprey migration and threatening their future. Money will pay for re-establishing native plants and vegetation along stream banks to provide better shade for fish and improve water quality that’s been compromised by pesticide runoff and erosion.

In Harney County, the local Soil and Water Conservation District is getting more than $3 million to protect greater sage grouse, the largest grouse in North America.

The greater sage grouse lives in 11 western states, and the population has declined by nearly 80% during the last 50 years due to livestock grazing, wildfires and invasive plant species, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey. Half of the decline took place in the last 20 years.

Harney County’s conservation district has been collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2013 to reduce wildfire risks and invasive grasses and weeds on grouse habitat on private lands. Since 2013, more than 70 landowners with 580,000 acres of sage grouse habitat have agreed to work with both the local conservation district and the federal agency to protect the greater sage-grouse.

The Deschutes River Conservancy is getting more than $1 million to help farmers and ranchers along McKay Creek switch to irrigation systems that use less water. The creek is 37 miles long and stretches from the Ochoco National Forest to the Crooked River northwest of Prineville.

A six mile stretch of the river often dries up in late summer due to farm and ranch over-irrigation. The area was once a breeding ground for steelhead, salmon and other fish but they’ve vanished from the creek due to water diversions and climate change. The conservancy hopes to restore those native fish populations in the creek.