ENTERPRISE — More than a quarter century ago, Wallowa County produced one of the first community-generated, countywide salmon plans in the nation. The landmark Wallowa County-Nez Perce Salmon Plan laid a foundation for restoration of salmon habitat, and for some revised practices in agriculture and forestry.
The original 1993 document addressed issues related to salmon that were just listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Nez Perce Tribe collaborated with Wallowa County farmers, ranchers, foresters, agencies, environmentalists and commissioners to recognize problems, and designate areas that would benefit from habitat restoration. It provided landowners and agencies documentation for grants to fund improvements.
The 1993 plan, updated in 1999, is being redone as a new Wallowa County-Nez Perce Natural Resources Management Plan (NRMP). The 20-person Wallowa County Natural Resources Advisory Committee (NRAC) is taking the lead. A related technical committee of mostly agency and tribal-based scientists and engineers is providing data and expertise. The draft document should be ready for public comment this coming spring.
The plan is targeted for implementation in the summer of 2021, according to Katy Nesbitt, NRAC director.
The new version, like the old one, will likely become part of the Wallowa County Comprehensive Plan, pending approval by the Wallowa County commissioners.
“It is supposed to be a guiding document for the commissioners when they are working on natural resource issues,” said Jean Jancaitis, the Wallowa Resource Programs director who also co-ordinates the NRAC’s grants. “It’s time to give them an update.”
The NRMP will help plan for emerging threats to ecosystems and the economy. Those threats include climate change, water quality and quantity, land use change, and habitat connectivity, said NRAC secretary and NRMP technical writer Caitlin Rushlow. The NRMP will also provide a long-term vision for natural resources management to meet those challenges.
A $35,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust in 2019 helped get the new effort off the ground.
“We know that much of the 1993 science is now outdated” Jancaitis said. “But there were some really wonderful things about the original plan that we want to maintain, including that it looks at the county and its landscape on a broad scale, and was meant to go far beyond salmon.”
The new plan is digital and computer-savvy. It lays out the county in hydrologic unit codes (HUCs) that correspond to named stream basins. The Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service and other state, federal and tribal agencies now map and store data according to standardized HUC numbers. So this categorization helps share data and keep data updated. For example: Using the Imnaha River Basin’s HUC number (HUC 17060102) it’s easy to find up-to-date information about stream flows and temperature, water quality, irrigation, adjudicated water rights, land use, crops, forest condition, soils and soil erosion, number of farms and much more.
Like the old plan, the new one will take the observations and experiences of community leaders and multigenerational landowners into consideration.
“The kinds of questions we’re asking people include what are the greatest natural resource challenges for the county, what opportunities do you see, and what accomplishments have you seen in the past 25 years,” Nesbitt said.
Last fall, Nesbitt interviewed four landowners, mostly in the Lostine and Wallowa areas. Rancher Dennis Sheehy of Wallowa said that his interview included a “pretty wide-ranging discussion” about county natural resources and land use.
Will the new plan have regulatory teeth? Not really. But it provides site-specific land-use planning guidelines.
“In so much as it informs people and developers, it has some regulatory use,” Nesbitt said. “For example, the planning commission director will run proposals for a development through the tech committee. They’ll look at what it says about that area in the new salmon/natural resources plan. Does the road need a bigger culvert? Is there an invasive plant problem? The technical committee will specify issues that need to be taken care of. The 1993 document has already been informing the county’s planning committee for a long time on conditional use permits.”
The salmon plan and its successor are among the nation’s only natural resource planning documents at the county scale, especially those developed without a state mandate.
“Most of the natural resource plans that I’ve found are for parks or state and federal lands,” Rushlow said. “There’s not much anywhere that includes this mix of private, county, state and federal ownerships at the county scale.”
“It’s been driven from inside the county,” Nesbitt said. “That makes it pretty unique.”