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First Conservation Easement on Wallowa County Working Ranch

February 15, 2011 | Wallowa Land Trust | Enterprise, OR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: James Monteith
Wallowa Land Trust
james@wallowalandtrust.org

Julia Lakes
Wallowa Land Trust
julia@wallowalandtrust.org | 541-426-2042

Woody Wolfe
Landowner
541-263-0802

Easment Protects 197 Acres

 

ENTERPRISE, OR -- Today the Wallowa Land Trust and Woody Wolfe Ranch announced establishment of the first agricultural Conservation Easement on a working farm in Wallowa County. This mid-Wallowa Valley easement covers ranchlands surrounding the confluence of the Lostine and Wallowa Rivers, near Highway 82 between the towns of Lostine and Wallowa, on both sides of Baker Road.

This Conservation Easement encompasses 197 acres: 161 acres of prime farm ground and 36 acres of aquatic lands, including about 2.5 miles of river, the confluence itself, and associated riparian areas and wetlands.  It will dedicate the property to agricultural uses in perpetuity, guaranteeing the tradition of farming and ranching while precluding residential development.  The easement will reduce pressure on streamsides from commercial grazing and development along the river corridors, restoring critical wetlands functions and enhancing habitat for spring Chinook salmon, summer steelhead, resident bull trout, and other fish and wildlife populations.

Conservation Easements are voluntary legal agreements between landowners and land trusts, created to protect natural and traditional values of the property in perpetuity.  This is the fourth such easement in the county and the first on a working farm or ranch.  The Wolfe family will continue to own and farm their property.

For the landowner, this Conservation Easement provides several economic benefits.  Woody Wolfe, who with his wife Megan farms this property and adjoining agricultural lands, noted “the easement was something I could do to bring my net cost of property down closer to agricultural production value, without dividing off pieces and selling them for homes.  Since this has been in the works for almost seven years, we’ve had time to be thorough.  It ensures the land will stay in farm production.  We’ve donated part of the assessed value of the easement.  However, the land trust is buying most of it, and we can use the income to reduce debt and improve our cash-flow position.”

This is the Wallowa Land Trust’s first purchased Conservation Easement.  “The easement will help stabilize the agricultural landbase in the middle valley as well as secure intact reaches of the Wallowa and Lostine Rivers,” commented James Monteith, President of the Trust, based in Enterprise.  “It underscores our commitment to working farms and ranches throughout the Wallowa Country, and demonstrates how voluntary private lands conservation can serve both agriculture and fish and wildlife resources,” he continued.  “This easement guarantees the property will remain in agricultural production, and also will improve water quality by protecting riparian areas and critical wetlands in this important river system.”

Wolfe elaborated on his family’s interest and motivation for the farm easement.  “I don't want this valley to look like a suburb.  A lot of people in this county seem to be attached to scenic values.  This is a way to capitalize on its economic value while preserving what people like here.”  A sixth generation member of his family, he raises a variety of crops, primarily wheat, and leases portions of the property for cattle grazing.

The Lostine-Wallowa Confluence Conservation Easement comprises a little under half the full parcel of 454 acres of farm ground eventually to be under easement.  It’s the first in a two-step process to secure funding for the entire Conservation Easement by the Wallowa Land Trust, which is now in the process of raising additional monies to complete the easement on the remaining 257 acres of this parcel.

The Easement Property represents many significant Wallowa County traditions.  It lies within the larger Wolfe Century Ranch, originally established in 1897 and designated a Century Farm in 1997.  From time immemorial, it served as a traditional Indian summer fishing camp for the Wallowa Band Nez Perce (the W’al’wama), and today is a private lands unit of the Nez Perce National Historical Park.  Old Chief Joseph died here in 1871 and was originally buried nearby, before being reinterred in 1926 at the Indian Cemetery at the foot of Wallowa Lake, adjacent to the recently acquired Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site.

Many local families and individuals contributed to this effort, helping the Trust pay for the easement.  Along with a series of small grants, these donations provided initial support to complete the required natural resource inventories, surveys and appraisals.  Acquisition funds were provided in part by generous grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, to protect important fish and wildlife habitat identified in Oregon’s Wildlife Action Plan, and by PacifiCorp/PGE.

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About the Wallowa Land Trust

The Wallowa Land Trust was founded in 2004 and is governed by local residents.  Its mission is “to protect the rural nature of the Wallowa Valley and surrounding areas by working cooperatively with private landowners, governmental entities, Indian tribes and local communities.”  The Trust uses economic incentives to help conserve the valley’s natural, historic, cultural and agricultural resources, including forests, farmlands, ranchlands, grasslands, wetlands, waterways and open space, for the benefit of present and future generations.  It purchases, and/or receives in donation, Conservation Easements and fee title properties from willing sellers.  In some instances it works with landowners to find motivated buyers to maintain traditional uses of their lands.

The Trust operates three major programs: Farms & Ranchlands, its largest program area, whose purpose is to secure agricultural ground as perpetual working lands, helping keep farms and ranches intact; Indian Sacred Lands; and Habitat & Open Ground.  Its office is on South River Street, across from the county courthouse.

 

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