The Department of the Interior has designated 4,400 acres of The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in Wallowa County as a National Natural Landmark. Established in 1962, the National Natural Landmark Program features areas that best illustrate the biological and geological character of the United States, enhance scientific and educational values of preserved areas and strengthen public appreciation of our natural heritage.

The featured area represents the last remaining, largest undisturbed plateau grassland and the largest remaining bunchgrass ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. It includes one of the Findley Buttes, chosen to represent the volcanic cones that have shaped the plateaus, as well as expansive vistas of bunchgrass-dominated prairie that is rich in flowering plants. The Zumwalt Prairie is home to a tremendous diversity of wildlife, including: raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons and owls), ground nesting songbirds, over 100 species of native bees, and abundant native mammals.

“People in Wallowa County have long known that the Zumwalt Prairie is a special place,” says Cathy Macdonald, the Conservancy in Oregon’s director of conservation. “It is wonderful news that the country is recognizing it too.”

“I believe this designation in Wallowa County validates the knowledge, understanding and concern for the land that the early settlers and their descendants hold for this unique landscape,” adds Susan Roberts, Wallowa County commissioner.

In a landscape with a long history of livestock grazing, the Conservancy continues to manage the Preserve as part of the working landscape by leasing pastures for local herds. “The Natural Landmark designation does not bring any management changes or restrictions to us or the other private owners of the Zumwalt prairie,” states Jeff Fields, the Conservancy’s Zumwalt project manager. “Our focus is on working with partners to steward this land long into the future. We want to carry on the legacy of stewardship in a working landscape.”

Since purchasing the preserve in 2000, the Conservancy has partnered with university scientists and other experts to understand and conserve it. Among the projects: a study of the effects of changing cattle grazing intensities on both native plants and animals and on the cattle themselves, and; implementing and monitoring restoration efforts to enhance native bunch grass prairie, shrub lands and streams.

The designation became official on April 3. There are nearly 600 National Natural Landmark designations across the United States, including 10 in Oregon. They vary in size from less than four acres to over 900,000 acres on both private and public lands.

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