WALLOWA LAKE — After 1,800 acres of Wallowa Lake’s East Moraine became county land in January, now the East Moraine Partnership is closing in on a management plan to maintain and improve this working landscape for everyone.
Funding sources that enabled purchase of the property from the Yanke family including Oregon State Parks and the Forestry Legacy Project, stipulated that a management plan should be completed by the end of September, according to the Wallowa Land Trust’s Eric Greenwell, who is coordinating planning efforts.
“We are planning for five aspects of the land and its use,” Greenwell said. “Habitat, cultural resources, forestry, rangeland management and recreation.”
The management team has included Mike Hansen, of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Nakia Williamson, Director of Cultural Resources for the Nez Perce Tribe at Lapwai, Idaho; Nils Christoffersen, of Wallowa Resources; Todd Nash, Wallowa County commissioner; and Matt Rippee, of Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, with additional help from ODFW’s Shane Talley and retiring Pat Mathews.
Issues produced by the COVID-19 pandemic and state budget cuts have slowed the planning process down, and the Sept. 1 target for a first-draft management plan will be a challenge to meet, Greenwell said. But important elements of plan for the East Moraine property’s forested southern end, at least, are nearing completion.
To the casual observer, the East Moraine is just a huge, steep, grassy slope. But the property’s southern third boasts a diverse forest that changes from old-growth Ponderosa pines to mixed fir, tamarack and pine, and finally to mostly grand fir the closer the site is to the mountains.
Consulting forester Larry Nall donated his time to cruise the timber and produce a forest management plan. Nall has made his home in Wallowa County since 1990, and specializes in sustainable and restorative forestry.
“I see East Moraine forest management as forest resiliency improvement, management for fire and wildlife habitat,” he said.
His research on the ground indicates that the East Moraine suffered significant forest fires about 125 years ago, and again about 100 years ago.
Nall’s developing draft plan identifies 15 different forest stand types and divides them into 19 stands. Two stands are recommended for logging. One, on the south end of the property is located above residences of Wallowa Lake Village.
“When it was logged earlier, it was high-graded,” Nall said. “So the best trees are gone. Some of the grand fir is dying from fir engraver beetle and competition for water. It’s kind of self-thinning at this point.”
Nall’s plan would reduce fire hazard by removing small, diseased, trees and a few commercial logs using cable logging because of steep ground. The plan would save the best trees for continued growth, and manage that portion of the forest mostly for wildlife habitat.
On the northern end of the East Moraine forest, Nall sees good reason to keep the large trees.
“Some of the older, 30-inch and 40-inch Ponderosa pines there are adding an inch of two to their diameter per decade,” he said. “That’s phenomenal growth.”
The forest plan also calls for thinning young understory trees.
“At least for now,” Nall said, “the forest management plan will at best be revenue-neutral so that a healthier, more fire-resistant forest is something the county can afford.”
A grazing plan is underway, but both the cultural resources plan and the recreation plans have hit speed bumps.
Until recently, COVID-19 kept the Nez Perce cultural resources team pinned down in Lapwai. In July, they were able to do field visits that included ethnographic work, and are now awaiting the State Historic Preservation Office clearance to do a more thorough survey, including some small excavations, Greenwell said.
He also anticipates that a draft recreation plan will be ready by Sept. 1.
“We are working through a mountain of data from about 450 responses to our public survey about moraine use,” Greenwell said. “And over the past two weeks, we’ve had seven focus-group meetings with community members around different uses. We have the information from all that, and we’re working to distill it and get the common threads and then present it to the management committee so they can see how it might fit into the management plan.
But they will have to deal with challenges as they come, he said.
“I fully expect we’ll encounter new, unexpected circumstances and expectations,” Greenwell said. “We can’t afford everything. So we are going to try to choose priorities that mutually benefit the users, the landscape and the county by employing what we have and can afford.”