Hells Valley goes public
Wed, May 06 2009 at 3:04 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy has purchased 27 parcels of private land located primarily in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
The Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service proposes to acquire the properties from the Conservancy using funds dedicated to land purchases. Public ownership would ensure public access for fishing, hunting and hiking on lands previously closed to the public.
"The 27 land parcels, totaling 6,673 acres, are private inholdings surrounded by National Forest, concentrated mainly along seven miles of the Imnaha River and six miles of tributary creeks.
“These properties are the gateways to hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands,” said Phil Shephard, formerly regional program director for the Conservancy. “This purchase will consolidate ownership, enabling the Forest Service to control weeds, manage fire and provide access more effectively on public lands. It also prevents these properties from being divided into multiple ownerships and developed.”We worked hard to listen to community leaders and took their interests and concerns into account as we shaped this land purchase over many months,” Shephard added. He recently left the Conservancy to take the helm of a local land trust in his home state of Alaska.
The Conservancy will work cooperatively with the Forest Service to manage the properties during the ownership transition. Management will include biological surveys and weed control efforts. The Conservancy will also continue leasing the lands to current grazing permittees.
“The Conservancy purchase is very important to many species of fish and wildlife,” said Vic Coggins, Wallowa District biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “All of the parcels are within conservation opportunity areas identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy. Fourteen key fish and wildlife species, including Oregon’s largest Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd, occupy this area.”
The streams and their floodplains on the 27 parcels provide habitat for Snake River steelhead, Snake River chinook salmon and bull trout, all federally listed as threatened species. They also harbor rare plants and at-risk bird species including the yellow breasted chat, mountain quail, Lewis’ woodpecker and willow flycatcher.
The Conservancy’s purchase price of $7.39 million was determined by an independent appraisal in conformity to federal standards. With the properties on the market, the Forest Service asked the Conservancy to purchase and hold the lands until the agency could obtain the needed funding. The Conservancy will not profit from the sale to the Forest Service.
The Conservancy will raise other funds to help cover property taxes, loan interest, closing costs and land management activities. A grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to support protection for ecologically important lands identified in state conservation plans is helping to make possible the land transfer.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.