Critical habitat along the Middle Fork of the John Day River changed hands this spring, but visitors to the Dunstan Homestead Preserve should not see any change in management.
The Nature Conservancy transferred ownership of the 1,200-acre holding with nearly 3.5 miles of river frontage to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.
“The land’s critical fish and wildlife habitat will remain under perpetual protection and stewardship as a result of important partnerships between The Nature Conservancy, the Tribes and the Bonneville Power Administration,” according to a BPA news release.
The homestead includes riparian and upland habitats, with ponderosa pine, mixed conifer forests, savanna and open meadows. Regulated public access to the land will continue, including limited hunting.
The upper reaches of the Middle Fork near the homestead provides important habitat for spawning and rearing chinook salmon.
“The river’s wide valley bottoms, gentle gradient and multiple side channels support one of the state’s healthiest populations of wild spring chinook salmon,” the BPA said.
The Dunstan family, which owned the land since 1899, sold the homestead to The Nature Conservancy in 1990, which worked with neighbors, local partners and the Tribes to restore habitat and advance research, monitoring and land management on the property and surrounding lands.
The acquisition by The Nature Conservancy was accomplished through private fundraising, special projects manager Allie Gardner told the Eagle. The Nature Conservancy then donated the land to the Tribes, she said.
“The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends,” said Derek Johnson, Director of Stewardship. “This is certainly not a journey we walk alone. We’re proud and fortunate to work with many wonderful conservation partners, like the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, to protect important habitat. When there is a strong conservation partner to take on long-term stewardship of property, then we work together to put the property in the hands and capable care of that partner. This is best for the future of the land, the water and the partner.”
The addition brings the Tribes’ holdings in the Middle Fork area to 3,000 acres. The Tribes have worked for nearly a decade restoring a dredge-mined section of the river upstream from the homestead at their Oxbow Conservation Area. The Tribes are also restoring degraded habitat on the Forrest property, about 10 miles upstream from the homestead.
Robert Brunoe, general manager of the Tribes’ Branch of Natural Resources, said the transfer was a natural fit as The Nature Conservancy and the Tribes worked together in the area for years.
“Our Oxbow and Forrest properties already represent half of the river’s chinook salmon spawning habitat,” Brunoe said. “The Dunstan adds another 10 percent.”
The Tribes will begin work on a management plan for the property, which should be completed in about 18 months. The land was never dredge-mined, but parts of the river were moved when the site was cleared for farming.
No major projects are planned, but some remaining railroad grade is blocking the floodplain, and some rip-rap is made of basalt rock not native to the area. The railroad grade project will need special approval.
A house on the preserve is rented out, and the nearby barn has been improved so it can be used for special functions. There are also some historic buildings dating back to the early homestead era. Future funding will be needed for fish monitoring, boundary fencing, weed control and signage for visitors.
The BPA, which will provide some funding for the preserve, spends $250-$300 million each year in on-the-ground fish mitigation projects, including acquiring land, restoring streams, water transactions to preserve instream flows, funding fish screens and working with irrigators.
Representatives from the Warm Springs Tribes, The Nature Conservancy and the BPA held a celebratory event at the homestead in June.