Editor’s note: This ODFW press release was originally posted August 6, 2021 on Facebook.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved the purchase of nearly 5,000 acres of land along the Minam River as part of Phase one of a project that will eventually create the 15,000-acre Minam River Wildlife Area.
ODFW, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Hancock Natural Resource Group are partnering on this a project to purchase property in Wallowa and Union County along the Minam River. This will 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. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has committed a minimum of $5.15 million apportioned to both phases. Phase one funding came 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. Oregon Hunters Association, the Oregon chapter of FNAWS and other organizations are also contributing funds towards the purchase.
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. Future management will be determined through the adoption of a Wildlife Area Management Plan. Managers envision the property as a “working landscape” where livestock grazing and active forest management assist with habitat management goals. 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, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, 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.
In other business, the Commission also:
Adopted 2022 elk archery season regulations as proposed by staff. Wildlife management units in the Blue Mountains will move to controlled archery elk hunting beginning in 2022 seasons, a change needed to help wildlife managers meet elk plan objectives in areas with low bull ratios and a high percentage of branch antlered bull harvest occurring within the general archery season. Commission also directed ODFW staff to develop a proposal for a controlled youth elk archery tag so youth can hunt in newly adopted controlled hunts and general season hunts, to promote youth hunting opportunity and hunter recruitment. This proposal would come before the Commission next year to be in effect beginning in 2023 seasons.
Remaining 2022 Big Game Regulations will be considered at the Sept. 17 meeting.
Set 2021 fishing regulations for wild coho in certain rivers. Seasons will be posted online later. Forecasted abundance of 125,000 fish (up from average of about 90,000 from 2016-2020) allow for a conservative wild coho in-basin harvest in select areas this year, with seasons beginning Sept. 15.
Set 2022 Sport Fishing Regulations. The Commission adopted 2022 regulations as proposed by staff. Highlights of proposed changes include permanent closure of the hatchery hole below Cole Rivers Dam to protect returning broodstock (Southwest Zone); removal of bag limits for walleye in the Willamette and Gilbert River to better protect native species (Willamette Zone); removal of regulation exceptions and implement zone regulations (two trout per day with artificial flies and lures only) in certain rivers in the Southeast Zone; make permanent a rule that allows harvest of 3 adult spring Chinook per day from the Washington State line to Hells Canyon dam (Snake River Zone).