Wallowa Lake is a text book example of a lake dammed by moraines, which are deposits of rock and sediment left behind by glacial movements. These moraines are among the most classic and complete examples of Pleistocene moraines found in North America.  Between 300,000 and 17,000 years old, they are  ecologically, economically and culturally significant to eastern Oregon.  

The moraines surrounding Wallowa Lake, particularly the east moraine, are arguably the most iconic unprotected area in the region.

Traditionally a Nez Perce Tribe encampment –today– the east moraine is a sustainable working landscape for forest jobs and livestock production. It provides high quality habitat and a key wildlife corridor between the valley floor and the mountains. Additionally, thousands of people visit the lake annually for its pristine surroundings and access to Oregon’s largest wilderness area.

Photo Credit: David Jensen

Photo Credit: Anette Christoffersen

Ecological and Economic Need

The east moraine encompasses 3,000 acres of privately-owned land, 60% of which is held by one landowner. In 2011, this owner expressed intent to sell or develop the property, with the potential that 26 homes could be built, three of which would be located within the iconic scenic view.

Construction of homes on the moraine would likely end traditional public access, fragment the landscape and destroy its rural character. This would threaten the county’s tourism economy which generates $26 million in local revenues and more than 10% of Wallowa County employment.

Photo Credit: David Jensen

Photo Credit: David Jensen

Project Activities

A coalition of local and state governmental entities and several nonprofit organizations are seeking to protect this entire landscape and designate a portion of the moraine as a community forest with a working lands easement under Wallowa County ownership. Primary partners in the effort are Wallowa Land Trust, Wallowa Resources, Wallowa County, Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, and The Trust for Public Land.

Project Outcomes

With the east moraine permanently protected as a working landscape, working forests, farms, and rangelands on the moraine can contribute to the local economy and maintain the rural way of life. The local community will retain its traditional access to the landscape, and wildlife will benefit from preserved open space. Timber harvested from the property would support local jobs and the Integrated Biomass Energy Campus in nearby Wallowa, a $5 million economic catalyst project developed in 2005 to create jobs and a market for small diameter logs.


Photo Credit: Leon Werdigner

This Project is Replicable

Many counties across the West have the potential to become long-term stewards and managers of forests and rangelands within their borders. With appropriate funding, this project can serve as an example of how a county can protect its important natural resources and keep land working for generations to come.