LA GRANDE, Ore.— Thanks to promised funding from the U.S.D.A. Forest Legacy Program and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), completion of Phase 2 of the Minam River Wildlife Area is one step closer.
The Minam River Acquisition project is expected to close later in 2023. When it does, the property will include six miles of the historic Minam River Trail and will put nearly 99 percent of the Minam River in permanent conservation status or public ownership. The wildlife area also shares a 2.5 mile boundary with the Eagle Cap Wilderness and together with surrounding national forestland, creates .a large block of public land for fish and wildlife conservation and recreational access.
The USDA Forest Legacy Program contributed $9.7 million to the project which is known as the Minam Conservation & Connectivity Project, and RMEF also generously donated to both phases of the project. The Forest Legacy Program is a conservation program administered by the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with Oregon Department of Forestry to encourage the protection of privately owned forest lands through conservation easements or land purchases to maintain public benefits such as opportunities to hunt, fish and camp; clean and abundant drinking water; habitat for fish and wildlife, and timber, fuel wood and other forest products.
Located about 30 miles northeast of La Grande in Wallowa and Union Counties, Minam River Wildlife Area will conserve and open public access to 15,573 acres along the Minam River. It will permanently protect crucial winter range for elk and deer and 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.
Recreation opportunities on the property 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. The trail connects recreationists to the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness in the neighboring National Forest.
“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 USDA Forest Legacy Program and RMEF, as well as a strong partnership with Manulife,” added Melcher.
“This commitment of Forest Legacy funding is a vital step toward completion of a landmark conservation project that will conserve and protect habitat for elk, mule deer, fish, birds and other wildlife, while also providing access for hunters, anglers and others,” said Kyle Weaver, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “We would like to recognize our partners at Manulife, ODFW and the U.S. Forest Service as well as support from elected officials, both locally and in Congress, for making this conservation victory possible.”
To learn more about visiting Minam River Wildlife Area, see the Visitor’s Guide. Note access to the wildlife area is closed Dec. 1-March 30 so disturbance to deer and elk is limited during the sensitive winter period. Access along the Minam River Trail is 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 revenue, ensuring a win for all. Future management will be determined through the adoption of a Wildlife Area Management Plan.