ODFW, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Hancock Natural Resource Group are partnering on a project to purchase property in Wallowa and Union County along the Minam River. The purchase would permanently protect crucial big game winter range and provide habitat for salmon, bulltrout, and Oregon Conservation Strategy Species including white-headed woodpecker, Rocky Mountain tailed frog, and several priority bat species.
Located about 30 miles northeast of La Grande, the property is currently managed by Hancock Natural Resource Group with a recent appraised value of $18.7 million. Final purchase price will be determined by updated appraisals. If approved, the acquisition would occur in two phases totaling 15,573 acres.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has committed a minimum of $5.15 million apportioned to both phases. Phase one acquisition of 4,609 acres will primarily be purchased with funding from RMEF and the Wildlife Restoration Program (a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition).
Completing phase two is contingent on securing additional funding through a USDA Forest Legacy program grant, which will be matched with RMEF funds to purchase the remaining 10,964 acres.
The properties will be added to ODFW’s current 440-acre Minam River Wildlife Area, turning it into one of the state’s major wildlife areas providing wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities.
After ODFW, RMEF and Hancock finalize the acquisition, future management will be determined through the adoption of a Wildlife Area Management Plan. There will be opportunity for public input on the draft plan, which will eventually go to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for final adoption.
ODFW’s existing Grande Ronde Watershed Wildlife Area staff will be responsible for the management, operation, and maintenance of the property. Managers envision the property as a “working landscape” where livestock grazing and active forest management assist with habitat management goals. Additionally, ODFW will continue to pay fire protection and in-lieu of property taxes for parcels in each respective county.
Recreation opportunities on the new property could include hunting, hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking and other activities. A footbridge over the Minam River is being considered to facilitate improved public access to the historic Minam River Trail, which travels for six miles through the property. The trail connects recreationists to the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness in the neighboring National Forest.