MISSOULA, Mont. — In partnership with Hancock Natural Resources Group and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is actively working to conserve 15,573 acres of wildlife habitat in northeast Oregon.
“Wildlife officials targeted the importance of conserving this landscape, the Gateway to the Wallowa Mountains, dating back to the 1960s. And now we are knocking on the door of a great conservation victory for elk, other wildlife and public access,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We greatly appreciate our partners at Hancock and ODFW as well as the support from many others in making landscape-scale land conservation possible.”
The Minam River Acquisition project, as it’s called, is located in Wallowa and Union Counties. The property links the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Minam Wild and Scenic River and the Wallowa Wild and Scenic River while also providing connectivity to Oregon’s Minam River Wildlife Area and Minam State Recreation Area. Additionally, it improves hunting and recreational access to more than 6,000 acres of nearby U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management public lands.
The landscape features timbered draws and open bunchgrass meadows that provide critical winter range for 400 to 500 elk and sometimes up to 1,200 elk while also serving as transitional and migration range for both elk and mule deer as well as habitat for many other species of birds and wildlife. It also features 114 miles of riparian habitat in the form of perennial and intermittent streams that are so important for salmon, bull and steelhead trout.
Easily accessible off State Highway 82 and the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, the Minam project will trigger positive economic impact within rural economies due to long-term active management and outdoor recreation.
ODFW will manage the property as a state wildlife management area. It will be managed as a working landscape, utilizing grazing to improve forage condition for wildlife and active forest management in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
“Protecting elk habitat, opening and improving public access, enhancing wildlife management and promoting our hunting heritage are all key mission priorities. And this project checks all the boxes,” said Mark Baker, chair of the RMEF Board of Directors. “We fully support it, salute our partners and are excited to continue working with them to push it across the finish line.”
Funding is nearly achieved for phase 1 of the project covering 4,610 acres with an intended closing date of December 2021. Fundraising continues for phase 2 featuring 10,964 acres with a tentative closing date of December 2023.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously in favor of the project at its August 6th meeting.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded more than 37 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of more than 231,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 8.1 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.