Wallowa County, Oregon is a scenic and diverse territory teeming with wildlife and flush with prosperous heritage farmlands. Unfortunately, much of the land today is worth more as residential real estate than agricultural acreage. Since 1974, one-tenth of Oregon’s prime agricultural land has been lost to development. Farm sizes in Wallowa County have decreased by more than half in that time. But here at Wolfe Century Farm—a large piece of land located near the confluence of the Wallowa and Lostine Rivers—sixth-generation farmer Woody Wolfe is helping to change that trend. 

Photo Credit: David Bridges

Photo Credit: David Bridges

Working Together For a Solution

In 2011, Wallowa Land Trust acquired a conservation easement on 197 acres of the Wolfe Farm. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between the landowner and land trust that protects a property and preserves its natural value, while letting the landowner continue farming it. Wallowa Land Trust is now working with the Wolfe family again, to place an easement on an additional 257-acres, including agricultural lands and wetlands.

Essential Wildlife Habitat

The project area includes more than two miles of river where the wetland feeds fresh water into the Lostine and Wallowa Rivers and supports a range of wildlife. Various bird species of concern including bald eagles, osprey and long-billed curlew, and Columbia spotted frogs all call this area home. It also provides essential migration, spawning and rearing habitat for three federally listed endangered species of fish—bull trout, steelhead and Chinook salmon. The Chinook spawning habitat is a critical outlet for spawners that would otherwise have to pass through nearly 12 miles of less suitable habitat and countless obstacles like manmade irrigation systems.

Woody Wolfe

Photo Credit: Rick McEwan

Protecting a Piece of History

In addition to its value as a wildlife habitat, this property is also historically significant. Wolfe Century Farm was originally established in 1897, and has served as a traditional Native American summer fishing camp for the Wallowa Band Nez Perce since long before that. Congress designated the area as a private-lands unit of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. Old Chief Joseph died there in 1871 and was originally buried near the farm. Today, the property contains a fish weir facility operated by the Nez Perce Tribe to monitor and manage Chinook salmon.

With the completion of this second easement, a total of 454 acres will be permanently protected from residential development and subdivision. More than 300 acres will be permanently dedicated to farmland, and the remaining acreage of wetland, including more than two miles of river, will be protected from habitat degradation and improved.

Preserving a Way of Life

Extinguishing development rights on working lands is an important tool for private landowners. It permanently removes development and subdivision rights, while allowing for continued agricultural use. That’s especially important in rural Wallowa County where agriculture and natural resources are main economic drivers. This project ensures that a sixth-generation farmer can continue to own and farm his land and eventually pass it on to his children, all while protecting local wildlife and their habitat.