Over the years, however, a better understanding of water quality and access issues led to a realization that truly fighting for the ranching way of life means following the science towards better outcomes for farmers and water.
Curtis is a lifelong rancher in eastern Oregon’s Powder Valley. He grew up on a ranch, married a seventh-generation rancher, and became the Water Resources Chairman of Oregon Cattleman’s Association in 1994 and was later named the organization’s president. Known as a tough defender of the water rights of ranchers and landowners, Curtis has been in the debate over Oregon water his entire life. In his early years he butted heads with former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.
“At first it was, ‘Put up your dukes and let’s fight about this,’ when it came to water discussions with the Governor and environmental groups,” Curtis says. “But I got to know Kitzhaber personally in his second term, and I began to work with place-based groups, and I realized that people want to know how the water is being used. I got into the science and realized that following the science could benefit my lifestyle. With science we can justify what we’re doing out here in terms of water quality and quantity.”
Curtis helped Cattlemen’s Association coordinate scientific research through the Oregon State University Land Grant College, and a research project in Malheur County is still underway through Cattlemen’s and the Oregon Beef Council.
“Your first reaction can be fear then anger,” Curtis says. “But it dawned on me that these people I’m arguing with are just as passionate about this water as I am. They have a legitimate reason to question me. Whoever confronts me about my practices, as long as we agree to the basic statement that I have a right to exist as an eastern Oregon rancher then we can work together.
“The beauty of what FCA can do is their patience in working through all the hurdles and agency requirements. They are an important resource to use to get all this stuff done so good work can be funded and implemented.”