558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
‘Bob’s emphasis was making things happen on the ground.’
Bob Lightley, who recently retired, was dedicated to making the forest a better place for fish, wildlife and people
Bob Lightley near the forest boundary along Mill Creek checking out cottonwoods that were planted earlier for riparian protection.
February 11, 2013
If you’ve been anywhere on the Ochoco National Forest, then there’s a pretty good chance you walked in the footsteps of Bob Lightley and benefited from the work he’s done on the forest.
Bob retired on Dec. 28, 2012 and spent most of his career as a biological technician and wildlife biologist on the forest. He started out working on the Prineville Ranger District in 1989, which at that time included the Maurys and the area north of town. Over the following years, he ended up working on all the districts of the forest.
“I was probably one of the few people who spent most of their career out on the ground,” Bob said. “Most wildlife biologists spend much of their time writing documents in the office.”
So how did he manage to get out so much? He said it was because he was involved in so many different projects early in his career, plus he simply chose to avoid the office, he said with a laugh. When he started out there weren’t any fish biologists or hydrologists on the district and as a result he just kept doing those types of projects. Most wildlife biologists aren’t involved with range or fisheries projects.
After getting a biology degree at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Bob spent about 14 years as a smokejumper. In 1976 he worked for a private company in the Northwest Territories at Fort Simpson. The next year he jumped out of La Grande. From 1978 through 1983 he was stationed at Cave Junction. Then from 1984 to 1989 He said he never had any really close calls but did get hung up in trees quite a few times. He never broke any bones but it’s tough to find a smokejumper without bad knees.
“It was a great experience, a lot of fun and I saw a lot of beautiful country,” Bob recalled. “We went to Alaska several times.”
He came to the Ochoco National Forest on a detail as a bio tech in the fall of 1989 doing stream habitat improvement work. Then he came back in the summer of 1990 and worked on the forest until retiring. He eventually got promoted from a bio tech to a wildlife biologist.
Bob was involved with a lot of fencing projects that protected aspen stands and springs. He thinned junipers and aspens, created ponds for livestock and wildlife, implemented many road closures and created snags for woodpeckers and other wildlife. He spent a lot of time with spring developments and managed the entire range program for one year and then managed one allotment (Bear Creek) for many years.
According to Bob, some of his favorite projects involved working in and around streams for fish habitat and watershed improvement. Much of this work was done with the help of a piece of equipment known as a spyder, or walking backhoe. Bob would supervise the contractor who owned the machine.
Some streams on the forest had problems with erosions, namely headcuts, which are erosional features like a drop-off. If not armored, headcuts will continue to run up the stream, resulting in the lowering of the local water table and poor fish habitat. In terms of stream restoration, headcuts are one of the most difficult challenges.
Bob met this challenge and over the years became more confident with fixing the problem. By using boulders, logs and smaller rocks he would create a series of step pools that would stop the headcuts from migrating upstream. Plus, many of these sites would no longer be barriers to fish.
To further improve fish habitat Bob placed logs and root wads in the streams, anchoring them into the banks so they wouldn’t get washed away during high flows. One of his bigger projects occurred on Bear Creek north of town. Most or all of those structures placed in the stream over 15 years ago can still be seen there today. Anyone who has ever caught fish on the forest can probably thank Bob.
There were many long days working with the spyder, from before dark to after dark. Bob had a few people worry about him, including Art Currier who was the district ranger at the time.
“I don’t think Bob carried a watch,” said Currier. “He’d go to work and you’d never know what time he’d come in. I told him that he had to start taking a radio with him in case we had to get in touch with him. So he took a radio out but we never could convince him to turn it on.”
Currier said he felt better after Bob got married, figuring if he didn’t get a call that night he knew Bob got in from the field without mishap.
“Bob’s emphasis was making things happen on the ground,” said Currier. “Besides all the stream rehab and other field work, Bob also provided great input to other resource projects such as timber sales and allotment management plans. He knew the ground so well that he was able to come up with great resource recommendations for those particular projects.”
When someone is out in the field as much as Bob it goes without say that there’d be some wildlife encounters. One that sticks out for him is a cougar encounter in Maurys while working alone one day. It was a drizzly, foggy morning and Bob was about a mile from his truck walking through some thick juniper when he heard the cougar.
“The cat screamed not far off but I couldn’t see anything since it was so foggy,” he said. “I knew it was a cougar so I walked in the other direction. After going about 100 yards the cougar screamed at me again and it had cut the distance in half but I still couldn’t see it. I had a shovel with me and banged it on a rock to make noise. I never heard it again after that.”
He had a few other cougars scream at him while working and had a few sneak up on him while bow hunting. He also saw a few bears and a few bobcats over the years.
Now that he’s retired, Bob said he’ll miss the field work the most. Although it was work, he said he always enjoyed being out in the forest, observing changes. He noted that he’ll also miss the people he worked with but won’t miss the office work.
Since most of the field work occurred in the summer, Bob said he’s looking forward to summer vacations with his family. He said there’s also more time now for some hobbies such as carving and woodworking.
“Bob was a great worker,” said Currier. “He was dedicated and enjoyed being in the field and leaving boot tracks on the ground. He quietly did his job and went out and made a lot of great resource improvements happen on the forest.”