Getting in Touch
Banner Caption: Russ Hoeflich, Director of the Oregon Chapter, The Nature Conservancy, and Cynthia Beckwith, Director of Development, provide a tour through Zumwalt Prairie located in Wallowa County, Oregon, 2006.
The Bridges Foundation provided $75,000 to The Nature Conservancy to assist with projects protecting the Palymra Atoll, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma, Santa Cruz Island and Mt. Hamilton in California, and Zumwalt Prairie Preserve.
Additional information: The “real people” of the Nez Perce were the original inhabitants of Zumwalt Prairie, who used this area for hunting and gathering in the spring and fall, which now rests in northeast Oregon. In 1805, their first contact with Euro-Americans, aside from French Canadian traders, was meeting and assisting William Clark and Meriwether Lewis on their epic trek to the Pacific Ocean. The Nez Perce provided food and kept their horses for the Corps of Discovery Expedition until they returned from the West coast. At this time, the Nez Perce territory spanned 17 million acres and covered present-day parts of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. They were the largest tribe on the Columbia River Plateau with a population of about 12,000.
President Ulysses S. Grant opened this area to white settlement following the Battle of Bear Paw Mountains in Montana where the Nez Perce, led by Chief Joseph, surrendered October 5, 1877. As Zumwalt Prairie was opened to settlers, it was part of a temperate grassland prairie that stretched west of the Rocky Mountains and extended north into Canada, including portions of southern British Columbia and Alberta, to eastern Oregon and Washington, and to northern Idaho and western Montana.
As other areas were settled, the Zumwalt Prairie remained largely intact due primarily to high elevation, harsh climate, remoteness and poor soils generally unsuitable for farming. Thus, Zumwalt Prairie’s use was primarily for ranching and much of it avoided the plow. Because of this, habitat remains today protecting the unique plants and animals that have lived there for thousands of years.
Today, Zumwalt Prairie is 330,000 acres, much of which is used for agriculture, largely for wheat production and beef cattle ranges. In 2000 and 2006, a total of 33,000 acres (51 square miles) was purchased by The Nature Conservancy and is protected in the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Within that, in 2013, the National Park Service designated 4,400 acres as a National Natural Landmark.
As the largest remaining intact Pacific Northwest bunchgrass prairie in North America, The Nature Conservancy is working hard to understand how this ecosystem works and to preserve it for future generations to learn about the unique plants and animals that call Zumwalt Prairie their home. Activities include collaborative research projects, controlled fires, managed grazing and wildlife habitat enhancement, and various public uses, including hiking trails and driving routes opened to the public.