by   OPB Jan. 22, 2020 11:15 a.m.

A large portion of the moraine that frames Eastern Oregon’s iconic Wallowa Lake has been purchased and protected from development.

public-private partnership that includes Wallowa County, two nonprofit organizations and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department spent more than a decade arranging the purchase.

This week, the group announced it finally raised the $6.5 million needed to buy 1,791 acres of the glacier-formed rocky hill known as a moraine.

After signing a purchase agreement last year, they were up against a Jan. 31 deadline to raise the money.

The landowner, the Ronald C. Yanke Family Trust, had considered a proposal to develop the property with three houses and a conference center. Now, it will be owned by Wallowa County and managed for forestry, grazing, habitat and cultural uses. 

Kathleen Ackley, executive director of the Wallowa Land Trust, one of the partners that arranged the purchase, said Wallowa Lake is a textbook example of a lake formed by the retreat of glaciers.

“Even when you’re standing at the foot of the lake it almost looks fake — like it’s an artificially created landscape. It’s so perfect,” she said. “For many people, it’s been the last remaining unprotected iconic landscape in the state of Oregon.”

Ackley said it’s rare to be see most moraines because they’ve been developed or they’re so remote.

“But this particular landscape you can actually see,” she said. “It’s just an emotional impact when people stand there and look at that it’s an incredible, scenic, beautiful view.”

The land is considered sacred by the Nez Perce Tribe, and it offers a valuable habitat connection between the Wallowa Valley floor, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area.

“This is a major wildlife habitat corridor,” Ackley said.  “That kind of connectivity is absolutely crucial.”

The East Moraine property at Oregon's Wallowa Lake will have public access and non-motorized recreational opportunities under a management plan that is being developed.

The East Moraine property at Oregon’s Wallowa Lake will have public access and non-motorized recreational opportunities under a management plan that is being developed.

Amy Singh with the Oregon Department of Forestry worked on two separate applications for federal Forest Legacy grant funds that provided $3.5 million toward the land acquisition — more than half of the purchase price.

It was a huge sum relative to the Forest Legacy grants Oregon has received in the past. To date, the state has secured $8.2 million from the Forest Legacy Fund to protect forestland on four different properties. The fund draws from offshore drilling fees collected in the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“This property kind of exemplifies everything Forest Legacy looks to protect,” Singh said, noting that the fund aims to preserve a working forest landscape with public access. “It’s unique and different in terms of the iconic, scenic landscape, geologic and cultural history of the property.”

The grant funding comes with some strings attached, requiring forested areas on the property remain 75% forested with a sustainable timber management plan that the Oregon Department of Forestry will help develop.

More than $1.1 million of the purchase was funded by individual donors. Oregon Parks and Recreation contributed $1 million, and the Nez Perce Tribe provided $300,000.

“This purchase is a dream come true, closing out any and all fears of potential development on the East Moraine,” Nez Perce Tribe Executive Director Rebecca Miles said. “This is a historical feat for the permanent protection of such sacred lands. The protections of this property will ensure our ancestors and our way of life are forever protected and continue on.”

The public will be invited to comment on a management plan for the property later this year.

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