A $450,000 federal grant will allow the local Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to construct a new facility. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

VALE – State game officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife go to work each day in Ontario preserving Malheur County’s wildlife in a leaky, old and cramped converted storage shed that was built in the 1960s.

The roof leaks, most officials have no windows and there is little in the way of security. That’s going to change with a federal grant that is allowing construction of a new building.

Government records show that the state agency is getting a $450,000 grant from the federal Department of the Interior for the construction of a new 2,100-square-foot field office and parking lot, and officials hope the project is finished by this time next year. The state will contribute 25% of the cost.

Michelle Dennehy, communications coordinator for the state Fish and Wildlife, told The Enterprise via email that the current field office is inadequate and unsafe for staff.  

Tom Segal, a wildlife habitat biologist stationed in Ontario, said that he and the other staff perform duties related to conservation of wildlife, surveying species in the area. 

“Anything really to do with wildlife, we try to be pretty involved in it,” Segal said.

The work performed by staff at the Ontario field office is critical for conservation given that one of its primary tasks is to maintain the population of game and non-game species.

Segal said up to six people work in the Ontario office, which includes four full time staff, a half-time secretary, at least one seasonal worker brought on for the summer and sometimes a college intern. 

Dennehy said that the roof and windows at the current office leak, the building lacks adequate space for meetings, some offices lack windows and that there is a lack of security.

“Not replacing this office will result in an unsafe, inefficient workplace for staff and constituents,” she added.

Segal said that getting a new office is “about having a safe place for our workers.”

“Sometimes we get disgruntled members of the public, and hunters, who have guns, so just having a little bit more secure facility” is important, Segal said.

The new office will be built on the site of the current office located in Ontario on Clark Blvd between US Route 26 and Onion Avenue.

Dennehy said that discussion about the new office has been going on since at least 2014, and that during construction staff will be moved to a temporary workspace.

The grant stipulates that the project must be finished by next June.

Segal said that engineers in Salem are finalizing plans, and that the project still has to go out to bid.

Segal said that, “the leadership in the department, they kind of decide what projects get priority. And so, this kind of has been priority for a while.”

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