JOSEPH, Or. – The breathtaking beauty of Wallowa Lake’s East Moraine forest and open space was permanently protected when almost 1,800 acres were transferred last week into Wallowa County ownership.
“This has been an important priority for the people of Wallowa County,” said commissioner Susan Roberts. “Keeping the moraine as a natural and working landscape was something that everyone agreed on. We are doing this for everyone in the County.”
For over ten years the Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership – a consortium comprised of the County, Wallowa Land Trust, Wallowa Resources, and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department – worked to acquire the property in order to eliminate any risk of home development, especially on the moraine’s vulnerable crest.
At the property sale closing at Wallowa Title, there was an air of solemnity rather than celebration as commissioners, Wallowa Resources, and the Wallowa Land Trust all signed the sale documents. In one very Wallowa County moment, they discovered that the $1,350,382.79 check brought to seal the deal was precisely $5 short. So someone opened their wallet and added a five dollar bill to the million-dollar check on the table.
Now that it is under Wallowa County ownership, all development and sub-division rights have been extinguished and the property will be managed as a working community forest, protecting native plants, wildlife habitat, and cultural resources while providing non-motorized recreational access and returns to the local economy through sustainable forestry and grazing.
“We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome that serves the public’s need for permanent protection and access to this spectacular natural landscape,” said John Hillock, Wallowa County Commissioner and Chair of the East Moraine Campaign.
After nearly a decade of negotiations, the Partnership and the former landowner, the Ronald C. Yanke Family Trust, came to a purchase agreement of $6 million in January 2019. Fundraising then went into full-gear, with over half coming in the form of a $3.5 million grant the Oregon Department of Forestry received from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program that helped the Partnership reach the purchase price in a voluntary sale by the Yanke family trust.
“We are grateful to the Yanke family for keeping and managing the property so well over the years, and giving the people of Wallowa County the opportunity to share and enjoy this landscape far into the future,” Roberts said. “If the family had not made the final offer, we would not have been able to make this happen."
Individual donors contributed more than $1.1 million to the purchase. Oregon Parks and Recreation contributed $1 million and its staff is lending a hand in formulating the land’s recreation plan. The Nez Perce Tribe gave $300,000 to the campaign and is helping the Partnership with the plan for management as well.
All told, almost $6.5 million was raised through grants and donations to purchase the moraine property and begin a multi-use management plan for its perpetual management. The Partnership continues to seek funding to support and sustain the management of the property.
“This is an incredible milestone,” says Kathleen Ackley, Wallowa Land Trust Director. “It’s by no means the end of the project, we still have a lot of work ahead of this, but this is something to be proud of. More than a million dollars came from private individuals and families with deep connections to Wallowa County and an enduring love for Wallowa Lake and the Moraines. We remain astonished by the incredible generosity of our community.”
“Forest Legacy Program grants are one resource to help keep Oregon’s working forests intact so they can continue to provide social, environmental and economic benefits to Oregonians,” said Oregon State Forester Peter Daugherty. “We are pleased that we could help the Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership protect this unique forest resource.”
A Community Legacy
Formed about 19,000 years ago, a time when glacial ice filled what is now Wallowa Lake,and towered more than 100 feet above the top of today’s East Moraine, the complex east Moraine is a geologic as well as scenic treasure.
For thousands of years the spectacular East Moraine has been a refuge for wildlife and sacred to Indigenous Peoples. Today it continues to be a working landscape enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. In recent years, the land was zoned for the development of houses, including three trophy homes on the crest of the moraine, but under county ownership the threats of development and subdivision are now extinguished in perpetuity.
Once complete, a multi-use management plan will strive to balance healthy habitat for native plants and animals, cultural resources, non-motorized recreation, and sustainable timber harvest and range management. Securing the East Moraine creates a significant habitat corridor; protects cultural resources; expands upon existing conserved lands; and opens to the public the property’s beautiful views on the moraine’s southern crest in a manner that is respectful of its scenic beauty. The draft management is currently scheduled for public input and review in spring of 2020.
“Community forests are a powerful response to forest and rangeland loss to development,” adds Nils Christoffersen, Executive Director of Wallowa Resources. “The East Moraine is central to our community’s sense of place. This milestone helps us sustain our connection to the land, which is central to the custom and culture of everyone who calls this place home. It’s an incredible achievement.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration is scheduled for late Spring of 2020.