Elk NetworkRMEF, Partners Recognized for Oregon Conservation Project

General | February 19, 2024

It’s an oldie but a goodie: there is no “I” in team. That mentality helped the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Manulife Investment Management Timber and Agriculture, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation complete a project that conserves and opens public access to more than 15,500 acres of habitat in northeast Oregon.

And for demonstrating ongoing, positive wildlife conservation efforts, including innovation, integrity, advocacy and goodwill, the Oregon Chapter of the Wildlife Society recently honored RMEF’s Bill Richardson (pictured below on right), ODFW’s Jon Paustian and Manulife’s Steve McClelland (pictured below on left) as its 2024 Conservation Award winners.

“This award is for the RMEF, ODFW and Manulife teams that got us to the finish line. Together, we completed a true legacy acquisition,” said Richardson, senior conservation program manager for the western U.S.

The property is now part of the Minam River Wildlife Area. It includes important winter range for mule deer and about 1,400 elk. The project area also improves habitat connectivity, serves as transitional and migration range for elk, mule deer and other species, and includes 114 miles of riparian habitat that benefits Snake River spring-summer run Chinook salmon, Snake River Basin Steelhead, Grande Ronde bull trout and Pacific lamprey.

Perhaps one of the most impressive demonstrations of the positive wildlife conservation benefit of the project, ODFW and tribal co-managers documented coho salmon redds in the Minam River in 2021, after a 40-year absence.

The property includes six miles of the historic Minam River Trail and will put nearly 99 percent of the Minam River in permanent conservation status or public ownership. The wildlife area also shares a 2.5-mile boundary with the Eagle Cap Wilderness and together with surrounding national forestland, it creates a large block of public land for fish and wildlife conservation and recreational access.

ODFW will manage the land as a working landscape, using grazing to improve forage conditions for wildlife and to enhance habitat through active forest management in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)