Prairie becomes Natural Landmark

By Observer Upload April 18, 2013 12:13 pm

 

Zumwalt Prairie is the last remaining, largest undisturbed plateau grassland and bunchgrass ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. Jen Newlin photo
Zumwalt Prairie is the last remaining, largest undisturbed plateau grassland and bunchgrass ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. Jen Newlin photo

A portion of Zumwalt Prairie Preserve is designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior  

The Department of the Interior has designated 4,400 acres of The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie as a National Natural Landmark. 

Established in 1962, the National Natural Landmark Program features areas that best illustrate the biological and geological character of the United States, enhance scientific and educational values of preserved areas and strengthens public appreciation of our natural heritage.

In a landscape with a long history of livestock grazing, the conservancy continues to manage the preserve as part of the working landscape by leasing pastures for local herds.

“The Natural Landmark designation does not bring any management changes or restrictions to us or the other private owners of the Zumwalt Prairie,” said Jeff Fields, the conservancy’s Zumwalt project manager. “Our focus is on working with partners to steward this land long into the future. We want to carry on the legacy of stewardship in a working landscape.”

Since purchasing the land that comprises the 33,000-acre preserve in 2000, the conservancy has partnered with university scientists and other experts to understand and conserve this special place. Among the projects are a study of the effects of changing cattle grazing intensities on both native plants and animals and on the cattle themselves and implementing and monitoring restoration efforts to enhance native bunchgrass prairie, shrub lands and streams.

The designation became official on April 3. There are nearly 600 National Natural Landmark designations across the United States, including 10 in Oregon. They vary in size from less than four acres to more than 900,000 acres on both private and public lands.

The featured area represents the last remaining, largest undisturbed plateau grassland and the largest remaining bunchgrass ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. It includes one of the Findley Buttes, chosen to represent the volcanic cones that have shaped the plateaus, as well as expansive vistas of bunchgrass-dominated prairie that is rich in flowering plants. The Zumwalt Prairie is home to a tremendous diversity of wildlife, including raptors like eagles, hawks, falcons and owls, ground-nesting songbirds, more than 100 species of native bees and abundant native
mammals.

“People in Wallowa County have long known that the Zumwalt Prairie is a special place,” said Cathy Macdonald, the Conservancy in Oregon’s director of conservation. “It is wonderful news that the country is recognizing it too.”

“I believe this designation in Wallowa County validates the knowledge, understanding and concern for the land that the early settlers and their descendants hold for this unique landscape,” said Susan Roberts, Wallowa County commissioner.

– Tracey Stone, 

 The Nature Conservancy’