In a remote river canyon in eastern Oregon, Western Rivers Conservancy has purchased 453 acres along Elk and Crow creeks, crucial headwater streams for two of Oregon’s wild and scenic rivers: Joseph Creek and the Grande Ronde.
The Grande Ronde is fed by Joseph Creek, which in turn is made up of many headwater streams, including Elk Creek and Crow Creek. When these two streams meet Chesnimnus Creek, Joseph Creek begins. The property we are working to conserve lies roughly 13 miles west of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and 11 miles northwest of the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, one of the most intact native grasslands left in the West. To the south lies the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the crown jewel of the Wallowa Mountains.
The wild character of this landscape, and the clean, cold water that these streams provide, make for prime habitat for fish and wildlife. The stretches of Elk and Crow creeks that flow through the property are designated Critical Habitat for threatened Snake River summer steelhead, and both streams are home to native redband rainbow trout. The area is considered priority habitat for Rocky Mountain elk.
The entire area is also important to the Nez Perce Tribe. Joseph Creek is named for Chief Joseph, the iconic leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce, which used the Joseph Creek canyon as a travel corridor.
WRC purchased the property in March, and we are now working to transfer the lands to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to ensure they remain permanently intact for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
Our efforts will also guarantee continued public access to major portions of the Wallowa Valley Ranger District and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Forest Service Road 4620 crosses part of the property and provides the primary access to four established campgrounds, several dispersed campgrounds, over 15 trails and a popular overlook. Conveying these lands to the U.S. Forest Service will ensure this cherished access point stays permanently open to all.
WRC plans to convey the property to the national forest in late 2021. Once that happens, the steelhead spawning habitat in Elk and Crow creeks, along with the property’s rich wildlife habitat and public access opportunities, will be protected in perpetuity.