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The Observer Paper 12/22/14

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The Nez Perce Tribe has roots in the Wallowa country — roots that go back hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. So it's not hard to imagine why the tribe is resisting Wallowa County's efforts to develop land at the terminus of the Wallowa Lake moraine. The tribe believes the 62 acres proposed for the Marr Ranch subdivision includes land that is both archeologically and culturally significant. But no one can say for sure because an in-depth survey of the land, which sits adjacent to the Old Chief Joseph gravesite, has never been done.

Without such a study, the county's decision to approve a tentative plat for the subdivision was shortsighted and premature, and smacked of disregard for the Nez Perce people, their heritage and their connection to Wallowa Lake. The decision has been appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

The decision has resulted in Oregon and Idaho's senatorial delegations weighing in on the subject. In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Larry Craig and Michael Crapo, both R-Idaho, said, "We believe that before developing this land, an extensive survey should take place. All options should be explored, including the federal purchase of the land at fair market value. ... We ask that all appropriate agencies begin working with and provide appropriate resources to the Nez Perce Tribe, the local community and other stakeholders in the process.''

The senators add considerable weight to what appears to be growing concern over the planning and county commissions' decision to give tentative approval to the development.

Since the senators' letter was written, the tribe has sent a letter to the county commission asking that it reconsider its decision.

In light of the senators' request to the Department of Interior for help with an archeological and cultural survey and possible purchase of the land, as well as the Nez Perce Tribe's efforts to raise money to purchase the land, the commissioners should give some thought to their decision on the subdivision.

By making sure a detailed land survey is undertaken, and by letting efforts to purchase the land proceed, the commissioners could demonstrate that they are aware of and concerned about the Nez Perce heritage and legacy in Wallowa County.

The county needs to revisit the issue and consider a solution that both demonstrates the county's acknowledgement of the Nez Perce connection to Wallowa Lake and ensures the property owners a fair-market return on their


Editorials in this column are the opinion of The Observer's editorial board. The board is comprised of Ron Horton, publisher; Ted Kramer, editor; Jeff Petersen, news editor; and Pierre LaBossierre, wire editor. Letters from readers, signed columns on this page and cartoons represent the opinions of the writer/artist and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial board.


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