MISSOULA, Mont. —More than 4,600 acres of prime elk habitat in northeast Oregon are now protected and open to the public thanks to a collaborative effort by the Manulife Investment Management’s timberland business (formerly Hancock Natural Resource Group), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other supporters.
“We thank and congratulate our partners for conserving this landscape that is so important for elk, mule deer, birds, fish and other wildlife,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “While we pause to celebrate this accomplishment, we know there is still much to do to complete phase II of the project that covers nearly 11,000 more acres.”
The Minam River Acquisition is a two-phase effort comprised of 15,573 acres that serve as a gateway to the Wallowa Mountains and link the Minam River Wildlife Area and Minam State Recreational Area to the 361,000-acre Eagle Cap Wilderness. It also improves public access for hunting, fishing and other recreational activity to an additional 6,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.
The Minam River Wildlife Area is easily accessible off Highway 82 and the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. A proposed trailhead near the highway will flow south through the project area and connect with the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
“We appreciate the opportunity to partner with RMEF and ODFW to ensure this important wildlife habitat is preserved into perpetuity,” said Tom Sarno, global head of Timberland Investments, Manulife Investment Management. “In addition to the lands directly involved in this sale, Manulife Investment Management is pleased to continue to work with RMEF and ODFW on the larger landscape level strategy focused on connecting the Minam State Recreation Area to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest bringing further critical habitat under conservation status.”
The new acreage is now part of the Minam River Wildlife Area. ODFW plans to manage it as a working landscape, utilizing grazing to improve forage condition for wildlife and to enhance habitat through active forest management in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
“The significance of this acquisition cannot be overstated. An opportunity to protect such a large swath of diverse habitat does not come along very often,” said Curt Melcher, ODFW director. “ODFW has pursued opportunities to permanently protect this property since the 1960s. This acquisition would not have been possible without the leadership and funding from RMEF, as well as strong partnership with Manulife Investment Management.”
Significant funding partners include ODFW, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, Oregon Hunters Association, RMEF and hunters, thanks to dollars generated by the Pittman-Robertson Act, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fundraising continues for the remaining 10,964 acres with a tentative closing date of December 2023. Once completed, the overall project will protect vital winter range for an elk herd numbering 1,400 as well as 114 miles of streams and rivers.
Go here to experience an interactive story map tour of the entire project including photos, video, maps and other information.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded more than 37 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of more than 231,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 8.2 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.