Snaking across eastern Oregon, the John Day River winds through a land of basalt canyons and sweeping river bends, where bighorn sheep outnumber cars and the scent of sagebrush fills the air. In spring and summer, boaters put in at sites like Service Creek, Twickenham and Clarno and spend multiple days floating the river, bass fishing and soaking up the spectacular scenery. Each fall, hunters and anglers return to the river just as surely as the wild steelhead do with the coming of higher water.
The John Day is a river that is cherished like few others. Its steelhead run is one of the healthiest in the Pacific Northwest and its Chinook continue to hang on, despite declining populations throughout the Columbia Basin. But the river is at risk. Warming water temperatures, degraded spawning and rearing habitat, reduced stream shading and seasonal water withdraws all threaten the John Day’s native fish.
This summer, in an effort to conserve more of the John Day’s finest fish and wildlife habitat, and to conserve the largest steelhead spawning and rearing tributary on the lower river, WRC committed to purchase the Rattray Ranch. The ranch spans four miles of Thirtymile Creek, a perennial stream that nourishes the John Day with a steady flow of cold water and once provided some of the best habitat for summer steelhead in the lower river. In terms of Columbia Basin steelhead recovery, this is an tremendous opportunity.
From a recreation perspective, WRC’s purchase of the ranch is equally important. For countless anglers, hunters and boaters, Rattray Ranch is the only access point along a 70-mile stretch of the river. By purchasing the ranch and conveying it to the BLM, we can ensure this special area remains open to all.
The ranchlands are also critical to the region’s unique wildlife. The property lies adjacent to the Thirtymile Wilderness Study Area and supports some 650 bighorn sheep, the largest herd in Oregon. Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain lion, raptors, upland game birds and numerous sensitive bird species all inhabit the area.
WRC plans to acquire the ranch in December 2014 and convey it to the BLM once funds are available. While we own the ranch, we will continue to manage it as private property, with conservation a top priority. Once in BLM hands, the property can then be carefully managed for the sake of its incredibly unique fish and wildlife and to ensure ongoing, compatible public access to one of Oregon’s most beloved rivers.