A new report indicates the Minam River is the second-most ecologically important river in Oregon. The Minam River Acquisition is a joint effort by Hancock Natural Resources Group (HNRG), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to conserve and open access to 15,573 acres in the northeast part of the state, including a key stretch of the river that flows through the Wallowa Mountains.
In compiling the results, Conservation Science Partners focused on the water quality, recreational value and ability to support rare or at-risk species of 54,115 miles of unprotected rivers and streams. The Minam River watershed ranked second overall behind the Chetco River. However, the majority of the top 20 rivers are in the western half of the state, particularly in the Coast and Cascade Ranges, with the exception being the Minam River watershed.
The Minam River Acquisition project area features timbered draws and open bunchgrass meadows that provide critical winter range for 400 to 500 elk and sometimes up to 1,200 elk while also serving as transitional and migration range for both elk and mule deer as well as habitat for many other species of birds and wildlife. It also includes 114 miles of riparian habitat in the form of perennial and intermittent streams that are important for salmon, bull and steelhead trout.
“Wildlife officials targeted the importance of conserving this landscape, the Gateway to the Wallowa Mountains, dating back to the 1960s. And now we are knocking on the door of a great conservation victory for elk, other wildlife and public access,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO.
Phase 1 of the project covers 4,610 acres with a planned closing date of December 2021 while phase 2 covers 10,964 acres with a tentative closing date of December 2023. It has the full and unanimous support of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission as well as many conservation groups, other organizations and private citizens across Oregon and in other states.
The property links the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Minam Wild and Scenic River and the Wallowa Wild and Scenic River while also providing connectivity to Oregon’s Minam River Wildlife Area and Minam State Recreation Area. Additionally, it improves hunting and recreational access to more than 6,000 acres of nearby U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management public lands.
ODFW will manage the property as the Minam River Wildlife Area and as a working landscape, utilizing grazing to improve forage condition for wildlife and active forest management in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
When completed, combined with the Eagle Cap Wilderness beyond, the project will create a block of public land larger than Yellowstone National Park.
(Photo source: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)