Category Archives: Grassland

Smokey Bear to bring fire prevention message to Oregon license plates this summer

Smokey Bear is an iconic symbol of wildfire prevention. Oregon's new Keep Oregon Green special license plate joins 1950's artist Rudy Wendelin’s Smokey Bear with a backdrop of Oregon's lush forests. The plate's $40 surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention education activities around Oregon, which share Smokey and KOG's shared message regarding the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Keep Oregon Green, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, the Ad Council, and Oregon Department of Forestry, have partnered to bring Smokey Bear and his important message to Oregon drivers: Only YOU can prevent wildland fires.

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles sold 3,000 vouchers for a new, Smokey Bear -emblazoned license plate in December.

The vouchers serve as pre-payment for the special plate surcharge fee for drivers hoping to adopt the new plate; the sale of 3,000 vouchers is required for the state to begin placing orders for plates with a new design.

With 3,000 vouchers sold in just a few days, the plate is will go into production soon, and will become available to vehicle owners registering their passenger vehicles, or replacing their existing license plates, later this year.

Once the plates are released, any Oregon vehicle owner can apply by paying a $40 “special plates” surcharge when registering for new or replacement license plates, in addition to the usual registration and plate fees.

The surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention activities conducted by Keep Oregon Green, an organization that educates the public about the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfire in communities throughout Oregon.

For more information, visit:

Source information:
The Keep Oregon Green Association was established in 1941 to promote healthy landscapes and safe communities by educating the public of everyone’s shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Smokey Bear was created in 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention. Smokey’s image is protected by U.S. federal law and is administered by the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree delivers season’s greetings in Nebraska

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree crossed Scotts Bluff National Monument on Nebraska's Great Plains Nov. 18, 2018. The tree is traveling from Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, where it was harvested, to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., where it will be delivered with 10,000 handmade ornaments to decorate the Capitol lawn this holiday season. Courtesy photo by Andrew Smith, Adventure Photography. Used with permission

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website,, and story map:

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at

November 18th, 2018
Scottsbluff, Neb.

Season’s greetings and holiday cheer on the Great Plains

What a beautiful day! Blue skies and incredible scenery pass our windows as our modern-day wagon train rolls by.

High prairie grasslands, golden in the sun, and the most incredible rock formations I have ever seen are dusted with the snow from yesterday’s storm.

Oh, what a difference a day makes!

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This morning, we stopped at the Historic Territorial Prison in Laramie, Wyoming.

This beautiful state park was a prison in the late 1800’s and helped to maintain law and order during the wild, wild, west. It was used to lock up notorious outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy.

The site now offers historic buildings, museum exhibits, a gift shop, and today, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

Quite a few people came out to sign the banner, have photos taken with Smokey Bear, and to wish the tree team well on our way to Washington D.C.

Our next stop was 147 miles away. We said “farewell” to Wyoming and “hello” to Nebraska with a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team stops for a photo while cleaning road grime from the truck during a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb. before continuing to Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. The "Return to the Oregon Trail" tour left Laramie, Wyo. and continued to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Scottsbluff, Neb. en route to thThe U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree visited Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. The "Return to the Oregon Trail" tour left Laramie, Wyo. and continued to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Scottsbluff, Neb. en route to the U.S. Capitol. USDA Forest Service photo.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team stops for a photo while cleaning road grime from the truck during a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb. before continuing to Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

The first thing we did upon arriving was to wash the truck, trailer, and all of the support vehicles. The storm had left all of the vehicles coated in icy, sandy, grime!

Once everything was sparkly-clean, we drove up to Scotts Bluff National Monument for a photo shoot.

Here’s the view from my window as we drove past the bluffs.

What a beautiful area!

Big, reddish colored rocks rising like giant castles seemingly touch the sky, above the golden plains.



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It’s incredible to think about the half-million travelers on the Oregon trail who marveled at the exact geologic formations I stood marveling at, 175 years later.

Some things change, and some things stay the same.

This evening, the City of Scottsbluff hosted a wonderful nighttime parade, with several thousand spectators in attendance.

The mayors of Scottsbluff and Gering, Neb. also proclaimed November 18th, 2018 as “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Day.”

When the tree stopped at the end of the parade, everyone converged on the tree, eager to sign it and to see the noble fir and the beautiful, handcrafted ornaments.

Once again, the atmosphere was joyful and full of peace and good will. I have never in my life experienced 30 days of joy, in a row. This tree has shown me that there is still joy in the world even though it can sometimes be hard to find around us. It is there, just under the surface, waiting to emerge if given the opportunity.

A sign in the city of Scottsbluff, Neb. advertises a nighttime Christmas parade and visit from the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Nov. 18. 2018. T

The city of Scottsbluff, Neb. hosted a nighttime Christmas parade Nov. 18. 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

I, for one will be looking for the hidden joy every where I go from here on out. I think I might be addicted to joy now. I’m ruined forever, in the best possible way.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

PS: Check out this aerial footage of our U.S. Capitol Christmas tree “modern-day wagon train” as it travels through Scotts Bluff National Monument, courtesy of Andrew Smith at Adventure Photograpy.




Help wildlife stay wild!

A trio of wild horses graze

PRINEVILLE, Ore. – Aug. 3, 2018 – Experiencing nature, up close is much of the appeal of a trip to a National Forest – but when visitors take a wildlife encounter too far,  it’s often the animal who suffers the consequences.

Last month, campers on the Lookout Mountain Ranger District befriended a wild mustang that entered their camp. They fed the horse, petted and groomed him, and the horse followed them on rides with their own horses. It was not the first time this horse had human interactions – he’d been coming into the campground for at least a year, receiving similar treatment from campers who wanted to befriend him.

After the campers departed, the horse remained – seeking food from other campers and companionship with their horses. Because of his lack of fear and failure to return to the forest for forage, the horse had to be trapped and removed – a risky undertaking.

“When we have a wild horse that has become accustomed to human interaction, we have to remove the horse from the territory for the safety of the public,” Slater Turner, Lookout Mountain district ranger, said. “This takes a lot of time to plan and execute. My commitment is that my staff will implement the capture and removal in the safest manner possible for the horse, the public, and our employees.”

The horse was successfully loaded into a trailer last week without injury or incident by skilled employees, but not without several days of work and preparation. Wild horses may seem calm and friendly in the forest, but their response to captivity and transportation can differ from domestic horses. There is potential for a life threatening injury when attempting to trailer them.

“This was a very stressful situation for all involved including the horse, which is unfortunate and really unnecessary,” Tory Kurtz, a Forest Service wild horse program manager, said.  “I’m happy that he will be going to a good home and I appreciate all of the partners who helped make this successful.”

“The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition is extremely concerned about the rise of intentional interactions between public and wild horses in the Ochocos,” Gayle Hunt, president of the coalition, said. “There are currently several horses which exhibit all the signs of persons deliberately attempting to tame the horses, and many other cases where persons have been observed doing this or have posted photos.”

There are several reasons why taming wild horses is a problem, Hunt said.

“First, the wild nature of these horses is what keeps them somewhat safe, and promotes the level of interaction between their own species needed for immediate survival and long-range sustainability. More urgently, close encounters with people and with domestic horses will almost certainly result in the injury or death of some or all of the players. When domestic horses are allowed to mingle with wild horses, the risk of disease or parasite transmission is greatly increased, as is the likelihood of loss of fear resulting in aggression or breeding attempts between the horses. One photo taken recently showed the lone stallion in question being stroked by humans while their horses were hi-lined in camp. A wild stallion approaching a tied domestic horse would very likely end in strangulation of one or both animals. Too, this stallion is now fearless around humans and the breeding instinct will be unencumbered by any efforts by the human to protect domestic mares. The only way to resolve this situation is to remove the young stallion to a life of captivity,” Hunt said.

The captured mustang has been removed to a private pasture where he will be halter broke before he is sent to his new adopters.

“We are fortunate to have a good relationship with the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition,” Turner said. “They have been very helpful in finding a good home for the horse.”

The Ochoco National Forest and the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition offer these tips and guidelines for camping and recreating around wild horses:

  • Do not harass, chase, or harm wild horses in any way. This is a federal crime and can lead to a hefty fine and even jail time.
  • Do not feed the wild horses. Handing out table scraps, grain, apples, or even livestock salt, can cause the horse to lose the fear necessary for survival. Poultry feed containing wheat, large amounts of grain, small yard apples, and mineral blocks formulated for other livestock can all kill a horse.
  • Do not touch or attempt to tame wild horses. Doing this causes the horse to lose its fear of people and can lead to the horse being permanently removed from its habitat because of public or wild horse safety concerns.
  • Never let wild and domestic horses establish a relationship. Make certain your horse has not been exposed to equine disease and is current on vaccinations and de-worming. Camp away from known water holes and gathering places.
  • Don’t tie horses unattended in wild horse country. Don’t expect flimsy portable panels to keep your horse safe. Use hotwire pens to leave a lasting impression on the wild ones.
  • Please drive slowly in wild horse areas. You never know when a horse may jump out in front of your vehicle.

If you have any concerns about wild horses please call the Ochoco National Forest office at (541) 416-6500.

A painted wild horse

Sure they’re cute – but its important to let wildlife stay wild. A wild horse like this one (from Ochoco National Forest’s Lookout Herd, photographed Sept. 20, 2014) was removed from Ochoco National Forest in July, 2018. The operation took skilled staff several days to plan and placed the horse’s physical health and safety at risk, because it had lost its fear of humans and instinct to forage for its own food. Wild horses are not accustomed to being confined or transported by trailer, and can be react unpredictably when being caught. USDA Forest Service photo.

Source information: Ochoco National Forest public affairs staff

Cattlemen restore pioneer-era windmills

Close up of a windmill.

A windmill stands in a field.

A pioneer-era windmill installed at a well on Crooked River National Grassland, recently restored by members of the Gray
Butte Grazing Association. Courtesy photo

MADRAS, Ore. – Volunteers from the Gray Butte Grazing Association have restored a pair of pioneer-era windmills to their original places above the Crooked River National Grassland.

The windmills are believed to date back to the late 1800’s, when pioneers maintained homesteads on the rolling hills just south of Madras.

Both windmills are visible from Highway 26 and are some of the last reminders of that history still visible on the landscape.

Before the restoration, years of exposure had taken their toll, said Tory Kurtz, rangeland management specialist for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland. The windmills chained to keep them from spinning, and some of the blades were missing.

After a windstorm in 2013, the public took notice and the cattlemen began making plans to restore the windmills. Thanks to their efforts, the windmills have been returned to their original places above the Joe Weigand Well and Dalton Grant Well, and are the last two working windmills on the grassland.

By Patrick Lair, Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grasslands PAO