Conservation Public Lands & Waters

New Acquisition Connects Huge Network of Public Land Larger than Yellowstone National Park

The Minam River Wildlife Area will provide access to more than 15,000 acres of prime fish and game habitat in eastern Oregon
Dac Collins Avatar
oregon public land acquisition

The newly acquired tract is located in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. Jesse / Adobe stock

Hunters and anglers in the Northwest will soon have access to another 15,573 acres of public land in eastern Oregon. The acquisition of the Minam River Wildlife Area was highlighted in a recent press release from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which worked with state, federal, and private partners to bring the land under public ownership.

When combined with the adjacent public tracts that already exist in the area, along with those in neighboring Washington and Idaho, the acquisition stitches together a network of public land that’s larger than Yellowstone National Park. This includes the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and multiple national forests. It will also improve hunting access to an additional 6,000 acres of land owned by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Hunters, anglers, and other users will be able to access the Minam River Wildlife Area from April 1 to Nov. 30. It will remain closed to the public for the rest of the year. While this closure will put the area off-limits for any late-season hunting and fishing, it’s meant to protect big game on their wintering range.

“The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has pursued this property since the 1960s and finally, an opportunity came along to protect this large swatch of diverse habitat that benefits so many fish and wildlife species,” ODFW director Curt Melcher said in the Nov. 14 announcement. He added that the acquisition wouldn’t have worked without private partnerships as well as funding from the USDA Forest Legacy Program and Pittman-Robertson dollars.

The Minam River corridor has long been viewed as an area of high conservation priority. RMEF points to a 2021 report that referred to the Minam as the second-most ecologically important river in the state because of its water quality. The river is home to several runs of wild salmon and steelhead, as well as bull trout—all of which are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. These fish are suffering throughout the larger Snake River Basin, and the Minam provides them with more than 100 miles of critical spawning and rearing habitat.

Read Next: If I Were America’s Public Lands Czar, Here’s How I’d Fix Access

The river corridor also serves as the winter range for roughly 1,200 elk, while mule deer and other big game species regularly migrate through the area, according to RMEF. The acquisition will improve habitat connectivity, as many of these animals already utilize the neighboring Eagle Cap Wilderness.

A grand opening celebration is currently slated for June 2024.  

Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify the millions of acres of public land that will now be made contiguous by the acquisition.