Wallowa Land Trust has returned 30 acres to the Nez Perce Tribe. Located on the west side of Wallowa Lake, the property has native grasslands and forest, making it a magnet for wildlife increasingly impacted by development.
Wallowa Land Trust, acquired the property in 2014 when it was up for auction by the County. As of March 24, 2023, the property is now back in tribal ownership.
“We were able to purchase this property thanks to funding from the Oregon Community Foundation,” says Kathleen Ackley, Wallowa Land Trust’s executive director. “Since we have owned it, we have managed the property for open space and wildlife habitat.”
According to Ackley, the Land Trust began talking about transferring ownership within the past two years. “When we first acquired the property, we intended to retain ownership indefinitely,” she says. “It is a beautiful area and is part of a critical wildlife corridor. Our job was to ensure it remained forever protected.” However, as the Land Trust worked on other conservation projects with the Nez Perce Tribe, the idea of returning the land started to take root.
“The more we learned about tribal history and the more we came to understand how indigenous people have shaped this landscape, the more it seemed like a no-brainer to return the land to tribal ownership,” says Ackley.
Most of Northeast Oregon, and all of what is now Wallowa County, whose very name is a Nez Perce word, is part of the homeland of the Nez Perce people. For at least 16,000 years, the Nez Perce stewarded this landscape, and what is now Wallowa County was part of the 1855 Nez Perce Reservation and remains treaty-reserved territory.
“Wallowa Lake is a heart within Nez Perce territory, a heart of our 1855 Reservation,” said Samuel Penney, Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. “Every step taken in protecting it and the lands surrounding it is an important step into our future.”
Recent years have seen more lands returned to tribal ownership. The Tribe was gifted two separate properties from the Methodist Church and they also have purchased several key parcels in Wallowa County. This particular parcel on the West Moraine will remain much as it always has been, but now under the stewardship of the Nez Perce Tribe. Wallowa Land Trust will continue to pay property taxes, monitor the property and help with stewardship as needed.
“We want to recognize and thank the Wallowa Land Trust for its vision and integrity,” said Penney. “It has become a trusted partner for the Nez Perce Tribe as we work to advance the Tribe’s vision and priorities in Northeast Oregon.”