One piece of property in Wallowa County that gets quite of a bit of attention for its unique habitat is the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve northeast of Enterprise, owned by The Nature Conservancy.
Zumwalt Prairie is considered the largest intact swath of native bunchgrass prairie in North America, providing habitat for one of the densest concentrations of nesting hawks and eagles on the continent, according to the Conservancy. The goals at the site are to retain and restore native habitats and to help recover endangered birds, fish and plants.
The Conservancy purchased its original 26,920-acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in October 2000. Now it is planning to purchase an adjacent 6,065-acre parcel, which would bring the total acreage to almost 33,000 acres.
As with the existing preserve, the Conservancy will provide for public access compatible with ecological and management goals. A walking trail on the preserve is open to the public off Camp Creek Road.
The property under option was the last refuge of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse before it vanished from Wallowa County in the 1940s, and is likely to play a role in ongoing efforts to reintroduce the once common grassland bird. It is directly west of the existing preserve, the newly optioned property includes grasslands and woodlands on North Findley Butte and much of the headwaters of Pine Creek.
Phil Shephard of Enterprise, the Conservancy's Northeast Oregon stewardship director, noted that since 2000, the Conservancy has paid $38,384 in local property taxes and $29,858 in fire patrol fees on its Zumwalt Prairie property.
"When the community welcomed us to Wallowa County, we pledged to be a good neighbor, including paying property taxes, hiring and contracting locally, managing the land well, and contributing to the local economy," Shephard said. "We've done that; we now have more than four local full-time staff, and the preserve has a full complement of research and restoration projects, attracting many visitors, researchers and volunteers each year."
Shepherd received the Natural Resource Leader of the Year award from the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.
He invites anyone interested in knowing more about the property to join a free public tour that is planned on June 10. The public is invited to meet at the Nature Conservancy office in Enterprise at 107 E Grant (just behind the Shell Station) at 8:30 a.m. for a brief orientation. Participants will then carpool out to the Preserve (25 miles from Enterprise on the Zumwalt Road).
The wildflowers and scenery are magnificent during June and the preserve staff, along with local biologist Jan Hohmann, will be pointing out some of the birds and plant species common to the preserve. They will also discuss the management of the property and its public use.
Everyone is asked to bring a lunch, walking shoes and sunscreen. Refreshments and snacks will be provided. The tour will return to Enterprise at approximately 5 p.m. Call for more information at 426-3458.
If you are unable to come on one of the tours, but still would like to see the preserve, call for directions and a map to the property.
"The more we learn about Zumwalt Prairie, the more excited we are about contributing to the conservation of such an extraordinary place," said Russell Hoeflich, Oregon state director for The Nature Conservancy. "Generations of landowners before us were good stewards of the land, and today the community still cares deeply about Zumwalt Prairie. We look forward to continuing to work with our neighbors and the community to protect and restore a prairie ecosystem for future generations."