Wallowa Land Trust acquired a conservation easement on 197 acres of the Wolfe Farm in February 2011. This easement encompasses 161 acres of prime farmground and 36 acres of wetlands, including over a mile of river, the confluence of the Lostine and Wallowa Rivers and associated riparian areas and wetlands. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and land trust created to protect natural and traditional values of a property in perpetuity.
Wallowa Land Trust is now working with the Wolfe family to complete an adjacent 257-acre conservation easement. This includes 147 acres of agricultural lands, 110 acres of wetlands and almost a mile of the Lostine River. According to Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife staff, it is one of the healthiest, most intact stretches of river in the Wallowa Valley. The property and surrounding area have been identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as a Priority Wildlife Focal Area for land acquisition as well as a Conservation Opportunity Area for the Blue Mountains Ecoregion. Freshwater emergent marsh on the property cools and cleans flows into the Wallowa River and supports Columbia spotted frogs. The property also provides habitat for various bird species of concern including bald eagles, osprey and long-billed curlew as well as three federally-listed endangered species of fish – bull trout, steelhead and Chinook salmon.
Aside from their valuable wildlife habitat, these parcels are also historically significant. They lie within the larger Wolfe Century Ranch, originally established in 1897. From time immemorial, this land has served as a traditional Indian summer fishing camp for the Wallowa Band Nez Perce and was designated by Congress as a private-lands unit of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. It is one of only four Park sites in Oregon. Old Chief Joseph died there in 1871 and was originally buried nearby, before being reinterred in 1926 at the foot of Wallowa Lake. Today the property contains a fish weir facility operated by the Nez Perce Tribe to monitor Chinook salmon. Well-traveled state Highway 82 runs along the western boundary of the property, making the project highly visible and creating ongoing opportunities for education.
With the completion of this second easement, 454 acres will be permanently protected from residential development and subdivision. Over 300 of these acres will be permanently dedicated to farmland and the remaining acreage of wetland and river habitat will be protected from habitat degradation and improved. With these restrictions and the landowner’s dedication, there is great potential for future stewardship and restoration projects on the property. The Land Trust has already implemented habitat restoration and other conservation projects on site.
Photos © Leom Werdinger