JOSEPH, Ore. — The unspoiled view of Wallowa Lake’s east moraine and its traditional uses will be retained when it becomes community-owned in the coming year.
When the sale of the Ronald C. Yanke Family Trust’s 1,800 acres – half the landmass of the moraine — is finalized in January 2020, Wallowa County will manage the picturesque landscape, as it was under private ownership, for cattle grazing and timber harvest while providing public access for recreation.
Responding to the public’s desire to keep the view shed from being developed into home sites and a conference center, as the land is zoned, the county commissioners helped form the Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership in 2011.
“We listened to the community and responded to the desire that this ground be kept as a working landscape, undeveloped and open for the recreation,” Susan Roberts, Wallowa County Board of Commissioners chair, said.
The moraines got a lot of attention in 2008 when a forum showcasing their fragility and scenic value was held in Joseph. At the time, the threat of a housing development had recently been quashed when Oregon State Parks and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, purchased a 63-acre ranch at the foot of the lake, turning it into Iwetemlakin Heritage Park. Protecting the view and the land around Wallowa Lake became hot topic.
“The best part about this work is being able to do it in collaboration with the diversity of partners in our community,” Kathleen Ackley, executive director of the Land Trust, said. “The Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership is a perfect example of how four different entities can come together to achieve a common goal that otherwise would be exceedingly difficult to do alone.“
Over the past eight years, with an eye on purchasing the land and placing it in county ownership, the Partnership contracted wildlife and plant surveys, drafted forest, range and recreation plans and secured $3.9 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, financed with royalties from energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. The fund pays for conservation of natural areas, especially adjacent to national parks and forests.
In the coming 12 months the Partnership will focus on raising the remaining money necessary to close the deal with the Yanke Family Trust by January 2020.
“We need approximately $6.6 million and we have already raised 60 percent of that,” Ackley said. “With the help of foundations and gifts from individuals who care about the fate of the Wallowa Lake Moraines, together we can conserve a true natural wonder.”
All three of eastern Oregon’s congressional representatives said in separate statements they support the Partnership’s work.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, a long-time supporter of the project said, “The natural beauty of the world-renowned and locally treasured Wallowa Lake moraines will gain significant protections, thanks to the foresight and resources provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore, said the land purchase is a step in conserving Oregon’s landscape.
“With this purchase, Wallowa County will preserve this asset for generations of Oregonians, Merkley said.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, commented on the land’s economic opportunity.
“Putting the East Moraine into county ownership will help ensure the landscape continues to be managed for multiple use, supporting jobs and our local economy,” Walden said.
Nearly 1 million visitors come to Wallowa County each year, many to enjoy the beauty of the lake and the Eagle Cap mountain range that frames it. For the county’s residents, the lake and its moraines provide fishing, hunting, hiking and economic benefits through agriculture and forestry.
Nils Christoffersen, executive Director of Wallowa Resources, said the Partnership’s work is a reflection of the community’s strong sense of pride and commitment to land stewardship.
“From our woodlands, rangelands and watersheds, there’s heart, meaning and history there for many people, Christoffersen said. “Turning the east moraine into a community forest is another win for our residents by maintaining this treasured landscape.”