The Nez Perce Tribe, Wallowa Lake Lodge, and Wallowa Lake State Park are one step closer to permanently conserving a sacred Nez Perce cultural site, Waalal’aamkt or “where the braided stream disappears into the water” as a conservation easement. The ten-acre locale, at the south end of Wallowa Lake, also provides premier habitat for fish, wildlife, and birds. Grants totaling $295,000 from the Healy, Collins, and Meyer Memorial Trust Foundations have brought funding to $449,000, or nearly half of the $990,000 assessed value of the easement. “We expect the purchase to be completed this year, hopefully by summer,” James Monteith, Wallowa Lake Lodge’s Managing Board Member said. “Everyone deeply appreciates the leadership and generous support of these Oregon foundations for the Nez Perce Tribe’s first conservation easement in Oregon.”
When local investors purchased Wallowa Lake Lodge in 2016, protecting the undisturbed portions of the grounds through a conservation easement was part of their plan. Keeping a portion of the grounds wild made sense for habitat and aesthetics. Honoring the Nez Perce reverence for the site was important. When complete, the financial contribution of the easement purchase will help retire the large majority of the debt that investors and Lake Wallowa Lodge LLC incurred in purchasing the Lodge, James Monteith, the Lodge’s Managing Board Member noted.
The ten acres of the projected easement, mostly on Lodge property, surrounds the Lodge. The easement will include the braided stream system where the Wallowa River enters Wallowa Lake, riparian wetland areas east and west of the Lodge building, and small river channels between the Lodge and the present main Wallowa River channel. While the Lodge was built on relatively high, gravelly ground, the area in the conservation easement has remained in its natural state. Only one trail, informal and unmarked, leads through the area. Native willows, gooseberry, elderberries, currents, water birch and other plants provide cover and forage for songbirds, small mammals and deer. Kokanee spawn in the calm channels here, as returning sockeye once did in vast numbers. The Nez Perce consider this beautiful and bounteous landscape a sacred place.
Ann McCormack, project manager for the Nez Perce Tribe, noted that without the permanent protection of a conservation easement, this wildland lakeshore area would be at high risk for development, should the lodge be sold into another owner. Excessive human use would also imperil its ecological and cultural value.
The Tribe began actively seeking funding to purchase the easement about a year ago, after they had developed a preliminary plan outlining its benefits and options for management, and had preliminary meetings with potential funders. “Our goal has always been to complete fundraising and the purchase of the by June, 2019,” said McCormack. Once purchased, the Nez Perce Tribe will hold and monitor the easement … “in perpetuity to preserve, protect and enhance the precious natural resources of the Nimiipuu.”
“It will give us a sense of both ownership and responsibility that we have always maintained,” she said. “It’s the right thing for us to manage it and the right thing of Oregon citizens to allow that. Now when I take my grandchildren to (Old Joseph’s) cemetery we can go to the (south) side of the lake and we can see our heritage there, too.”
McCormack is optimistic about the new, soon-to-be conservation easement, and credited the Lodge ownership, Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands, and Oregon State Parks as supportive partners that helped make it happen. “This is a beginning, not an end,” she said.