PRINEVILLE, Ore. - The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management announced Wednesday the final phase of the John Day Wild and Scenic River land acquisition, which consists of transferring 11,149 acres from the Western Rivers Conservancy.
Here's the full news release from the Department of Interior announcing the transfer:
Adding these lands to public ownership creates another access point for boaters on the John Day River and offers augmented road access for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The acquisition also opens up an additional 2,000 acres of public lands previously surrounded by private land and inaccessible to the public.
"I applaud the BLM for the years of work and collaboration that went into completing this multiphase significant acquisition along Oregon's John Day River," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. "This area provides a rich variety of recreation opportunities throughout the year including hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, skiing, camping, and whitewater rafting – pursuits that are also vital to the state's economy."
"Managing public lands for the benefit of all Americans requires collaboration among private landowners, conservation and recreation groups, and local, state, tribal, and federal governments," said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley. "This acquisition along the John Day River is a great example of these public-private partnerships and what we can achieve by working together."
"This is a momentous achievement for the John Day River and recreationists alike," said Sue Doroff, President of Western Rivers Conservancy. "People can now experience a spectacular stretch of one of the West's great Wild and Scenic River corridors. At the same time, they can take pride in knowing that the lands they're exploring are protected for the fish and wildlife—animals they will very likely see while visiting this special place."
The acquisition increases outdoor recreation opportunities and enhances conservation stewardship in support of Secretary's Order 3366, Increasing Recreation Opportunities on Lands and Waters Managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior and Secretary's Order 3347, Conservation Stewardship and Outdoor Recreation.
The John Day Wild and Scenic River is the second longest free-flowing river in the continental United States and hosts one of the few remaining wild fish runs in the Pacific Northwest. From its headwaters to Camas Creek, the North Fork of the river is one of the most important rivers in northeast Oregon for the production of anadromous fish, including endangered bull trout and summer steelhead, along with chinook salmon, redband trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. Wildlife found along the river's corridor include mule deer, elk, and black bears, along with peregrine falcons and bald eagles.
In 2018, outdoor recreation in Oregon generated $16.4 billion in consumer spending, supporting an estimated 172,000 direct jobs and resulting in $749 million in state and local tax revenues for local communities and visitors from throughout the country and the world.
This acquisition from the Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) was made possible by an $8 million allocation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF, funded in large part by a portion of the federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development, supports the protection of federal public lands and waters and voluntary conservation on private land. The LWCF investments secure public access, improve recreational opportunities, and preserve ecosystem benefits for local communities.
In December 2014, WRC purchased the 14,148-acre Rattray Ranch, which spans four miles of Thirtymile Creek and nearly two miles of the John Day River. In 2018, WRC purchased 2,939 acres of the Campbell Ranch, which spans an additional five miles of Thirtymile Creek, immediately upstream. WRC successfully transferred the first 4,083 acres of the ranch to the BLM in early 2018. Transfer of the remaining 11,149 acres will complete the acquisition process.
The completed acquisition will enable the conservation and restoration of four miles of Thirtymile creek, while improving steelhead habitat, and ensuring the stream remains a permanent source of cold water for the John Day. The project will also conserve 10 miles of river frontage along the John Day River itself and expand access for recreation and exploration.
The Rattray Ranch lies at the heart of the John Day's best habitat for California bighorn sheep, supporting an estimated 600 to 650 head, the largest herd in Oregon. Bighorn sheep are highly vulnerable to disease and can experience steep population declines as a result. Conserving high-quality habitat for these animals is key to their long-term vitality.
The ranch is also home to Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and mountain lion, as well as raptors, upland game birds and numerous sensitive bird species.
The newly acquired area and its boat launch will be managed by the BLM's Prineville District. Interim guidance will be provided by the John Day Basin Resource Management Plan, and Prineville District specialists will evaluate the new lands for road conditions, cultural resources, recreation needs, fish and wildlife habitat, grazing opportunities, and other resource objectives.
In 2019, Prineville District staff began working on the management plan for this area. Several public meetings were held and other opportunities have been provided for suggestions on the management of the area.