SALEM — The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is moving ahead with a deal that will more than double the size of a wildlife area where the public can hike, hunt and fish on the Lower Deschutes River.
The agency has worked with the Trust for Public Land over the last two-and-a-half years to acquire the former ranch, which will cost $3 million. Private groups partnered with the state to raise the money.
Lawmakers gave their support to the plan before they went home in July, and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to acquire the land at its meeting Friday. The proposal will add more than 10,000 acres to an existing 8,500-acre wildlife area on the river.
The parcel is the only private land along the Deschutes River that is “heavily used by bighorn sheep” and two streams on the property are spawning grounds for steelhead, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In July, the Legislature approved the use of $1.3 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help purchase the land, as part of House Bill 5006. Other money for the acquisition comes from more than $1 million in mitigation fees that utilities paid to the state, $225,000 from the Trust for Public Land, a $135,000 Oregon Parks and Recreation Department grant and donations from two wild sheep groups. The state will not use hunting and fishing license fees on the purchase, according to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife document.
Jeremy Thompson, a district wildlife biologist for the agency in The Dalles, said the property is important “because of the unique habitats in the Deschutes and the ability to tie together a large landscape of public ground in the canyon.”
“Being able to have the entire Oak Creek drainage, and have the ability to try to manage fisheries habitat in that, will be exciting for us,” Thompson said, referring to one of the steelhead spawning grounds.
The existing Lower Deschutes River wildlife area is a popular location for people to view bighorn sheep, and it’s also a good place for bird watching with habitat for raptors, migratory songbirds and game birds, according to the agency. Thompson said the Department of Fish and Wildlife will also continue to allow livestock grazing on the property as a management tool.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife already owns or manages 20 wildlife or recreation areas across the state, with a total of more than 200,000 acres.