Phase one of the Minam River Wildlife Area project is now complete, adding more than 4,600 acres of public land to the state’s wildlife area system.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) along with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Manulife Investment Management’s timberland business (formerly Hancock Natural Resource Group) worked together on the project.
“The significance of this acquisition cannot be overstated,” said Curt Melcher, director of ODFW. “An opportunity to protect such a large swath of diverse habitat does not come along very often. ODFW has pursued opportunities to permanently protect this property since the 1960s. This acquisition would not have been possible without the leadership and funding from RMEF, as well as a strong partnership with Manulife,” added Melcher.
Phase one funding primarily came from RMEF and the Wildlife Restoration Program, a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition.
To complete phase two, ODFW is working to secure additional funding through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Legacy program grant, which will be matched with previously secured RMEF funds to purchase the remaining 10,963 acres.
“We thank and congratulate our partners for conserving this landscape that is so important for elk, mule deer, birds, fish and other wildlife,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “While we pause to celebrate this accomplishment, we know there is still much to do to complete phase two of the project that covers nearly 11,000 more acres.”
This project will permanently protect crucial winter range for elk and deer. It will also continue to provide habitat for salmon, bull trout, and other Oregon Conservation Strategy Species including white-headed woodpecker, Rocky Mountain tailed frog and several priority bat species.
Once completed, the 15,573-acre property will be managed by ODFW as the Minam River Wildlife Area, the fifth largest wildlife area in the state. The Fish and Wildlife commission approved the purchase earlier this year.
Located about 30 miles northeast of La Grande in Wallowa and Union counties, the property is located along the Minam River and currently managed by Manulife Investment Management.
In addition to creating new public recreational access for hunting, fishing, and other activities, the Minam River Wildlife Area will also improve access to Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands.
“ODFW will manage the property as a working landscape utilizing limited livestock grazing as well as active forest management in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry to improve forage conditions for wildlife,” said Nick Myatt, ODFW East Region manager.
Recreation opportunities on the new property could include hunting, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, kayaking and other activities. The proposed Minam River trailhead will be established on the border shared with the Minam State Recreation Area and the wildlife area. 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.
Public access will be allowed from April 1 to Nov. 30 so disturbance on deer and elk is limited during the sensitive winter period. Access along the Minam River Trail will be allowed year-round.
As with other state wildlife areas, ODFW will pay fire protection fees and “in-lieu” of property taxes to maintain county tax revenues – ensuring a win for all. Future management will be determined through the adoption of a Wildlife Area Management Plan.