In 2021 the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation finalized the first phase in an acquisition of 15,500 acres for wildlife and hunters in northeast Oregon. When complete, the Minam River Wildlife Area will be 32 times larger than it sits now! The purchase of the first 4,610 acres was finalized in November of last year as part of a two phase project. The next phase includes acquiring another 10,960-acre parcel that will connect the wildlife area with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and Eagle Cap Wilderness. Phase two is expected to wrap up at the end of 2023.
Anyone who drives from Elgin to the town of Wallowa can see the property that was purchased in the acquisition from HWY 82 as they make the infamous hairpin left turn down the canyon.
Though this land was previously owned by John Hancock Life Insurance – a corporation that allowed public access – the acquisition of the property for wildlife conservation will ensure public access to the property far into the future. Not to mention, the wildlife area will now offer a permanent trailhead into the huge wilderness, both technically designated and not, that lies south and east of the Minam River for backpackers, hunters, and other recreationalists alike.
The canyon walls here provide great winter-range habitat for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats since their big steep walls and south-facing fingers rarely hold snow for long after a storm. As such, folks expect the wildlife area will likely host a closure of some kind in critical times of year to prevent unnecessary disturbance, but final future management will be determined through the adoption of a Wildlife Area Management Plan.
In talking to hunters who live in the area, they admit it’s good for the long-term security of access and wildlife priorities, though there are mixed feelings about the acquisition. Specifically, one hunter I talked to, a gentleman named Tanner, was concerned about the acquisition because it puts this little slice of heaven in the limelight to folks from other parts of the state who may not have known it was accessible otherwise. Only time will tell if more users will move into the area, and if drawing odds get harder for the hunting opportunities in that unit from increased interest drawn from this project.
As a native to this part of the world, I have fond memories of stopping on that stretch of road and glassing black bears and elk from the highway. This corner of Oregon is one of the last best places for backcountry elk, deer, and black bear hunters who have a strong back or pack string of mules. The public just gained an incredible piece of property to ensure we can hunt, fish, and recreate on it for generations to come thanks to RMEF and the other organizations involved in these efforts.