WALLOWA COUNTY — For close to two decades, The Nature Conservancy tag-donation program has proven to be a major boon for the community.
“Each year, the Nature Conservancy gives four tags to local charitable organizations, nonprofits, schools, whatnot,” said Rich Wandschneider, director of the Josephy Library of Western History and Culture, who said the organization received the tag grant for the first time. “You write a grant request. This is why we want a tag this year. We’ve put in for it before and never gotten one.”
The tags are for special hunts on the Zumwalt Prairie, of which The Nature Conservancy owns a 33,000-acre portion, according to Chad Dotson, prairie preserve steward.
The multiple landowners within the Zumwalt do provide access throughout the year for hunts, which Dotson said most individuals are not aware of.
“There are close to 200 people a year who access the preserve to hunt antlerless elk, which people don’t realize,” he said.
Since 2002, TNC has given away tags for fundraising purposes, and in that time, Dotson said, more than $600,000 has been raised through the raffles for the rare hunting tags.
“TNC can donate landowner-preference tags which then a community panel allocates to different community organizations or other conservation-minded organizations, which then they can raffle off as a fundraiser,” Dotson said.
TNC also provides youth hunt opportunities.
The hunts can be used not only for a land-management tool, Dotson said, but also for the aforementioned purpose of providing community support.
“The other side is more for the community engagement side of things. We want to be able to provide an opportunity for people to hunt,” he said.
Along with the Josephy Center, other 2021 tag recipients included the Rotary Club of Wallowa County, the Lions Club, Wallowa County Search and Rescue, the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Wallowa Land Trust.
The raffle tickets for the tags go quickly. Wandschneider, who said the Josephy Center will clear about $7,500 on its fundraiser, said all 200 of the $50 tags went fast.
“The chance to hunt a bull elk or buck deer on the preserve, the quality of the hunt is high, which is valuable,” Dotson said.
Another reason the tags are highly popular is because they are for hunts that are guided.
“That does a couple things,” Dotson said. “We have a local guide, Tyler Houck, who does an awesome job. It gives him the chance to help his guide business grow and he provides TNC a great service. His knowledge gives folks the chance to have the full preserve experience and have a great hunt.”
The tags will be drawn for later this year, and the hunts themselves will take place during the regular Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hunting seasons.
“It’s great for us,” Dotson said. “We get to connect with the winners of the group.”