Mary Estes

Mary Estes was born and raised in Bend, Oregon. She moved to Union County after graduating from high school. She met her husband Don shortly after arriving in Union County. They have three children, Stephanie, Chris and Michael. Her favorite past time is spending time with her family and friends.

She graduated from La Grande Business College. After college, she worked for the La Grande Ranger District in Business Management. She joined the Grande Ronde Model Watershed Program in 1994. She is the office manager of the program and the secretary of the Grande Ronde Model Watershed Foundation. She loves being part of a team that is working hard to make our rivers and communities a better place to live. She enjoys visiting a completed project site to see the final product. She emphasizes that The flowing of a stream is such a beautiful sound and very relaxing!

Besides working in the office, you will find her gathering volunteers from the community and the various agencies to work on river cleanups, planting projects, fairs, community activities, and school activities during the spring and summer months in both Union and Wallowa Counties. If you would like to volunteer or know of any areas by water bodies that need cleaned, notify Mary. The most satisfying work... helping others!

Jesse Steele

It should come as no surprise that the Union County Project Coordinator at GRMW enjoys fishing, loves bird hunting, and owns a couple of hunting dogs named Remington and Max. Nor should it come as a surprise that he doesn’t get out to hunt and fish as much as he’d like because there are things in his life that are much more important: Summer, his wife, Fenley, their son, and Manu, their daughter, are the real center of Jesse’s life. Summer was home schooled in Summerville (no, she wasn’t born there and named after the town) and was a fellow student at EOU when she and Jesse met, and while they were still students, they married and bought the house they live in today. Summer and Jesse are very involved at Calvary Chapel in La Grande, where Summer’s father is Pastor and Jesse serves as a youth leader.

Jesse comes to GRMW with an excellent background. After graduating from Wallowa High School, he attained a Liberal Studies Major with Minors in Biology and Geology from EOU. Starting soon after graduation, he acquired 6 years of invaluable experience with Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Northeast Fish Research program stationed in Badgley Hall at EOU. His work there was predominantly related to research on spring Chinook and summer steelhead, both populations that are on the federal Endangered Species Act list and native to the Grande Ronde Subbasin.

Jesse was raised with siblings Jenny and Joel, both of whom now reside out of state. His father Doug taught and coached at Wallowa and now lives in Walla Walla, WA. LeArla, his mother, resides in Washington.

Although GRMW has partnered with a wide variety of biologists from a multitude of organizations in the past, Jesse is the first full time biologist to serve on the staff and will be assuming a variety of responsibilities, not the least of which is establishing and maintaining relationships with private landowners. Jesse’s work with ODFW allowed him an opportunity to work with a number of private landowners and his position with GRMW will require him to expand the number of landowners he knows and works with across both Union and Wallowa Counties.

The aforementioned Spring Chinook native to Catherine Creek and the Upper Grande Ronde are two of the highest priority populations to be addressed by the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) Biological Opinion (BiOp). The BiOp mandates that the action agencies Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) must mitigate for the operation of the hydropower system on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. GRMW is the local stakeholder group through which much of the funding for restoration projects is allocated, and Jesse will be instrumental in working with partners to identify, design and implement these projects, with special emphasis on Catherine Creek and the Upper Grande Ronde River. His appreciation of private landowners and their priorities, along with his own passion for habitat restoration work make him a natural to fill this role for GRMW.

When Jesse applied for the position at GRMW, he stated that it was his desire to be more directly involved in habitat restoration work, and that he wanted the opportunity to continue to work with private landowners. When asked about his work with local farmers and ranchers, Jesse offered that he was pleased that so many of them were not only willing to allow him on their property, but that they were curious about what he was learning about fish on their property and how fish populations were doing. Jesse believes that fish and farming are compatible and he’ll have his chance to prove it.

Ian Wilson

Ian is originally from Portland, Oregon, and moved to Wallowa County in 1998. Ian, his wife, Heidi, and their two kids, Ashley and Malachi, have lived just outside of Lostine, Oregon, along the Wallowa River since they moved to Eastern Oregon. Ian’s eldest child, Ashley, just left home to attend the University of Montana in Missoula to study art education. His son, Malachi, is a seventh grader at Wallowa Junior High School and enjoys playing basketball.

During Ian’s time living in Wallowa County, he has owned and operated an outdoor store called Wallowa Outdoors in Enterprise as well as worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and now the GRMW. Ian earned a bachelor’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Science from Oregon State University in 2015 and an associate’s degree in Forestry from Central Oregon Community College in 1998. His extensive experience working in natural resources and education along with his well-established roots in Wallowa County make him a perfect fit for the GRMW.

Ian loves the outdoors and spends much of his free time with his family hiking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness and fly-fishing the area’s numerous high lakes and streams. Not many people can say they have fished the entire Minam River from the headwaters (Minam Lake) to the mouth, which Ian completed in 2018. Ian packed in an inflatable kayak to float and fish the remote river, catching everything from trout to Mountain Whitefish. To say Ian has a good understanding of the natural resources and geography of Wallowa County is an understatement!

Ian and his wife recently took over a portion of the family farm where they have been living and already have started making plans for how to improve the fish habitat along the property’s one-mile stretch of the Wallowa River. Ian loves not only the vast recreational opportunities in Wallowa County but also the county’s people. He often reminisces about his time operating the outdoor store, saying that his favorite part of that job was getting to talk with all the people who would stop in each day.

Connar Stone

For most people, the field of computer science is essentially a foreign language. Ironically, programmers and IT gurus have to know several types of languages to make computers, well--compute, that for the untrained onlooker, is practically magic. The concept of being both multi-lingual and a bit of a magician isn’t one that’s lost on Connar Stone, the new IT and Database Manager for the Grande Ronde Model Watershed (GRMW). Before entering the Computer Science program at Eastern Oregon University (EOU), Connar considered a degree in linguistics, having a keen interest in both Spanish and Japanese. In an introductory course at EOU, Connar made the connection between this linguistic adeptness and his natural aptitude for electronics. Connar is also a bit of a wizard when it comes to card tricks; so much so, that to see him perform one of these illusions, you can’t help but believe that he can make miracles happen when put to the test on a stubborn PC.

Connar was born in Spokane, Washington and lived on Fairchild Air Force Base for a number of years before moving to the southern Oregon coast. In 2000, his dad’s job with the Oregon State Police relocated his family to Cove, Oregon where he graduated from high school in 2008. After graduating, Connar spent four years as an active duty member of the Air Force, which took him to Texas, Delaware and finally to California where he spent most of his military career working in heavy aircraft operations. Early in his enlistment, Connar married his wife Hannah Stone (formerly Ricker, who is from Union), the two now have a one-year-old daughter named Kiona. He says that his fondest memories of the Air Force are the relationships he built with his comrades and their families. He can distinctly remember an early morning, after having worked the entire night, watching a C-5 jet taking off into the colorful California sunrise, being a particularly inspirational moment during his service.

In June 2016, Connar graduated from EOU and was named the Outstanding Student in Computer Science for that year. When he isn’t busy with his wife, daughter, or their two dogs and three cats, you may find him outside flying his drone. A hobby he picked up after being tasked to become the ‘drone expert’ here at GRMW. In just two months on the job, Connar has mastered GRMWs two drones, capturing aerial imagery of project sites and water temperature data with a FLIR (thermal) camera. As if he wasn’t useful enough, this aerial imagery and data capture will be an invaluable contribution to our project partners as they implement and monitor large scale restoration projects. Connar’s ability to find inventive solutions for tech problems and his prowess as a magician make him a pretty popular guy around the office, but it’s his willingness to explain anything from quantum computers to the nuances of Google Docs that sets him apart from ‘your company’s computer guy’. Although, he says ‘I’m no David Blane’, we think he’s pretty impressive and hope that Connar will keep GRMW on the cutting edge of technology for many years to come.

Kayla Morinaga

Kayla Morinaga, our new Monitoring Network Coordinator here at the Grande Ronde Model Watershed (GRMW), is an Oregonian through and through. Growing up in Ontario, Kayla comes from a family of loggers and farmers who instilled in her at a young age the importance of a healthy environment and productive resources. Kayla’s love of nature and the outdoors was heightened when she was in the second grade by her all-time favorite teacher. In a lesson about the Amazon, she was fascinated learning about the diversity of plants and animals, extinction, and the destruction of natural landscapes. She recalls learning a lot about the ocean in the fourth grade, which made her young self sure she wanted to be a marine biologist. She realized this dream would never come to fruition when she found out that she suffers from motion sickness while on the water. That left terrestrial wildlife, water, and freshwater aquatic species, and Kayla says “the fish and water won me over.” This interest was a perfect fit for her, considering that her father, grandparents, and much of her extended family are avid recreational fishers, and she grew up joining them for long days of steelhead, trout, bass, and crappie fishing. As an adult, Kayla does not have the chance to fish as much as she would like, but she is committed to the importance of clean, cool water for our fish.

After graduating from Ontario High School, Kayla obtained her associate degree from Treasure Valley Community College. She then transferred to Eastern Oregon University (EOU), where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She says, “I knew that I wanted to work in a field that would keep me in touch with nature and in which I could feel I am making a positive contribution toward preserving and enhancing our watersheds.” During her time at EOU, she got a job with the U.S. Forest Service as a stream surveyor during the summer months. Although this job sometimes could be tough because it required several days of backpacking to remote streams covered in downed wood and dense riparian vegetation, Kayla found it to be a terrific opportunity for a young person. She enjoyed being able to explore the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

After finishing her degree at EOU, Kayla received a permanent position at the U.S. Forest Service as a Hydrologic Technician. In this job, she was still involved in stream surveying but had the luxury of supervising the survey crew instead of venturing out into hard-to-survey streams. Kayla had done her fair share of time in the field! During her years as a Hydrologic Technician, Kayla also managed multiple watershed-related databases for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest as well as the water quality monitoring program for the La Grande Ranger District. When Kayla isn’t hard at work in the GRMW office, you may find her, her husband of 10 years, Matthew Orosco, and their three young daughters outside picking morels or huckleberries. The family also loves to travel, play sports, garden, camp, and fish.

When Kayla and Matthew are occasionally able to escape together from the busyness of family life, they enjoy running, backpacking, and hunting.

When I asked Kayla why she wanted to work for the GRMW and what she most looks forward to in her new position, she said, “I have had a connection with some of the staff at the GRMW starting many years ago because we all helped out with the free fishing day event that used to be held at Morgan Lake in early June. The GRMW has a reputable mission, and I’ve always had much respect for it, so coming to work here was a great opportunity. My position is the monitoring network coordinator for the basin, and I have a long background in monitoring and databases as well as good working relationships with many of the partner organizations established during my previous work. I also am very familiar with northeastern Oregon from work as well as time spent out recreating, so I think all of that has set me up for success in this position. I am excited to gain the feeling that I am making a positive contribution to preserving and enhancing the watersheds within the Grande Ronde River Basin and to foster relationships with all of the partner organizations as well as private landowners. Lastly, being a parent of young children, I better appreciate the importance of education and exposure to the natural world around us for everyone, but primarily for young people. It is easier than many people assume to help instill a lasting impression and respect for nature on them, especially the importance of clean water.”

We here at the GRMW are so pleased to have Kayla on our staff, and we are excited to see the work she will complete for the entire Grande Ronde River Basin as our much-needed monitoring network coordinator.

Alex Towne

Alex Towne, the new GIS Technician at the Grande Ronde Model Watershed (GRMW), grew up riding horses and shooting cans in a beautiful, remote canyon that boasts a population of 175 people and a whole lot of rattlesnakes. To this day Alex says that Imnaha was her favorite place to live and that she returns often, although mostly in the late fall and winter when she can hike and ride horses without worrying about snakes. Growing up in Imnaha and later, Joseph, Alex was deeply influenced by her time spent outdoors. As a child she remembers nights where she got to go with her dad to check on the cows (she liked to man the spotlight), hiking in the Eagle Caps with her mom and spending countless summer days swimming in Wallowa Lake.

Despite her appreciation for the rural landscape she grew up in, Alex, like many kids in Eastern Oregon, couldn’t wait to get out. She traveled as an exchange student to Hungary for her sophomore year, and then after high school, headed off to the west side of the Cascades, eventually landing in Portland. While in Portland, Alex attended Portland State University (PSU), worked for the GAP, got her cosmetology license and volunteered at the Sauvie Island Center teaching kids about organic gardening. After years spent in Portland, Alex couldn’t wait to come home, and we’re so glad she did!

Alex got her degree in Geography from Portland State and says she was immediately intrigued by her GIS courses. This interest motivated her to further her GIS education with a graduate certificate from OSU eCampus. Alex cites the family atlas as her favorite ‘book’ as a child and says “I really like the power maps have to display data in such a user friendly way and that geographic reasoning applies to every subject.” Alex’s love of maps will serve her well in her new position with the GRMW where she will be providing map making and data analysis services for the GRMW and to all of our partners. Alex says she is excited to work for GRMW because “I believe in the work that is being accomplished here and what better place to that than a place I love so much”. As a Wallowa County native, Alex will bring insight and a unique perspective to what will be some of her main projects in the coming years, the Wallowa County Atlas Project and Ripples.

When she’s not working you will find Alex outside hunting, fishing, hiking, swimming or playing with her four-month old puppy named Bailey who everyone at GRMW hopes will become the new office dog. Alex might be the prototypical millennial, focused on a healthy lifestyle and a sustainable environment.Instead of sitting at her desk, she stands, lights off to avoid the glare from fluorescent, hydro flask at the ready. She holds tightly to her roots while looking with open eyes and curious mind to the world beyond her.