Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

by Western Rivers Conservancy
Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

Project Report | Oct 31, 2011
Western Rivers Conservancy Fall 2011 Report

By David Wilkins | Development Director

With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) is buying land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. General support gifts help pay for the essential operating costs of purchasing land and placing properties in permanent conservation stewardship. Your contribution is dedicated to such activities as: developing relationships with willing seller landowners; preserving salmon and steelhead habitat; and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.         

Thanks to your contributions, we are: 

-          Creating Oregon’s largest state park.

-          Expanding Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.


Oregon’s John Day River 

Conservationists and recreationists alike are rejoicing with the news that Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) have permanently conserved more than 16,000 acres along the John Day River. After three years of hard work, this site is officially on its way to becoming Oregon’s largest state park, Cottonwood Canyon.

When this important property came up for sale in 2008, WRC recognized the property’s importance for fish, wildlife and people, and purchased the 8,114-acre Murtha Ranch, along with its 8,000-acre BLM grazing lease. WRC has been conveying the 16-mile stretch of river to OPRD in installments since 2009. The final conveyance of 3,329 acres was completed on October 13, 2011.

As the Pacific Northwest’s longest undammed river and the nation’s longest Wild and Scenic River corridor, the John Day River is truly an extraordinary river. The river not only boasts the healthiest run of wild summer steelhead in the Columbia basin, where they are listed as Threatened, but also runs of wild fall and spring Chinook and bull trout. The acquisition also includes the bottom three miles of Hay Creek, a tributary that summer steelhead depend on to spawn and rear because it runs cold and clear year round.

WRC is a land acquisition specialist. With this project, we adapted our approach and implemented a comprehensive restoration effort. Since purchasing the land, WRC has been working with OPRD, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, local volunteers and school groups to eradicate noxious weeds, replant native grasses and complete fencing along riparian areas. Restoring the native shrub-steppe ecosystem will enhance habitat for a number of rare, native species including: ground-nesting birds like the grasshopper sparrow and burrowing owl; birds of prey like the ferruginous hawk and loggerhead shrike; and reptiles like the sagebrush lizard.

Conserving the ranch is an important step for the John Day River fishery and a great opportunity to enhance low-impact recreation, including fishing, boating, hiking and hunting. OPRD shares WRC’s vision to protect sensitive and diverse habitats while enabling public access, and is an ideal long-term steward if the property. The new Cottonwood Canyon State Park is scheduled to open in 2013.

Utah’s Bear River

An effort to expand the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, protecting critical marsh land and waterfowl habitat, was successfully completed when Western Rivers Conservancy conveyed 580 acres of land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in September, 2011.

The marshes at the mouth of the Bear River are the largest freshwater component of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and among the top producers of waterfowl in the country. In the middle of the desert, this freshwater oasis is a phenomenal gathering place for birds to rest, feed, nest and rear their young. Set aside by the public in 1929, this 74,000-acre refuge sees more than 200 species and millions of birds throughout the year. WRC purchased the Lucky Seven-Pintail Club in 2011. Under the stewardship of the USFWS, these lands will be restored to even greater health for species like geese, tundra swan, American pelican and snowy plovers.

Previously, WRC conveyed the 696-acre Feather and Finn property to the Refuge in 2010. Together, these properties will expand the Refuge’s protected habitat, environmental education opportunities and overall visitor experience.


With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people. Please contact David Wilkins at 503-241-0151, ext. 14 (or with any questions or for further information. Thank you.

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Organization Information

Western Rivers Conservancy

Project Leader:
Anne Tattam
Administrative and Development Associate
Portland , OR United States

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