The majority of funds received for festival registration and activities are put right back into the planning, promotion and implementation of future events. Sometimes, a portion of any profit from the festival is available locally as a grant for wildlife interpretation, educational projects and other community projects associated with the festival. Projects funded by the Bird Festival include: ​

  • Interpretive panels at the Narrows Pullout on Malheur Refuge
  • Production of a wildlife coloring book for a senior project
  • Purchase and installation of the great blue heron sculpture on the corner of Hines Blvd and Grand street.
  • Coordination of the Wildlife Viewing Trail construction on the old railroad grade running through town
  • Purchase of the protective floor cover for the high school gymnasium
  • Purchase of tables and chairs for the new community center
  • Purchase of large projection screens
  • Purchase of trees and shrubs for the Arrowhead Plaza in downtown Burns

The Harney County Migratory Bird Festival is held in honor of John Scharff

Just who is John Scharff ?

John Scharff began his career with the US Fish and Wildlife Service at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He initially arrived at the refuge as the assistant manager in 1935 and was promoted to refuge manager in 1937. John was the first on-site manager of the refuge. From 1908 until John’s promotion to manager the refuge was managed from Portland with only on-site law enforcement. With the addition of the Blitzen Valley to the refuge in 1935, management was transferred to the field and John became the first manager to live on the refuge.

When John Scharff was promoted to refuge superintendent in 1937 he faced the daunting challenge of keeping Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees at three camps busy making improvements in the Blitzen Valley and constructing buildings, but at the same time, overseeing management of this vast, tremendous natural resource. While the CCC constructed much of the infrastructure present today, Scharff and his staff built many of the features we see today on the landscape. 

Major projects undertaken by the staff under Scharff’s direction included: 

  • Construction of Krumbo Reservoir for impounding irrigation water
  • Construction of Moon Reservoir for impounding irrigation water
  • Construction of the museum at Refuge Headquarters
  • Battling the increasingly destructive invasion of non-native carp on the refuge after their introduction to the Silvies River in the 1940s
  • The reintroduction of trumpeter swans to the refuge from Red Rocks Lake, Montana
  • Construction of numerous wetlands in the Blitzen Valley
  • The construction of the Malheur Job Corps Center on the refuge (now used as the Malheur Field Station)
  • Increased use of the refuge by educational and conservation groups, and recreationalists.

​John and his wife Florence lived on the refuge at refuge headquarters until John retired. John served as Refuge Manager for over 34 years until he retired at age 70. Scharff maintains the longest tenure for an on- site manager in the Refuge System and he was awarded the Department of Interior’s Distinguish Service Award in 1971.​

Florence is credited with the abundance of flowers and flowering shrubs that grew at refuge headquarters for decades. She planted many of the perennials growing today at headquarters with members of a gardening club from Burns. Florence and John lived in the building that now serves as the visitor center and office.