An expected national designation for a 4,400-acre chunk of the Zumwalt Prairie was realized early this month when outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed paperwork that makes that portion of The Nature Conservancy-owned property a National Natural Landmark.
The designation applies to Harsin Butte, the easternmost of the three Findley Buttes on the Zumwalt. The honor was given because the featured area “represents the last remaining, largest undisturbed plateau grassland and the largest remaining bunchgrass ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest United States,” according to a press release circulated by The Nature Conservancy media specialist Tracey Kiest Stone.
Jeff Fields, TNC’s Northeast Oregon regional director, whose office is in Enterprise, says management practices for the 33,000 acres the Conservancy owns on Zumwalt Prairie will not be impacted because of the U.S. Department of Interior’s recognition of the Harsin Butte site. This means, among other things, that TNC will continue leasing some of the Zumwalt Prairie to pasture local herds.
In an interview last week, Fields said it was unknown whether the Conservancy would place commemorative signage at Harsin Butte. And, although a prestigious recognition for Wallowa County, he intimated the biggest practical application of the designation might be realized by scientists and others wishing to learn more about specific ecosystems.
Since TNC purchased the property in 2000, university scientists and other experts have conducted projects such as:
• A study of the effects of changing cattle grazing intensities on both native plants and animals and on the cattle themselves.
• Implementing and monitoring restoration efforts to enhance native bunchgrass prairie, shrublands, and streams.
The National Natural Landmark Program celebrated its 50th birthday a year ago and was designed to “feature areas that best illustrate the biological and geological character of the United States, enhance science and educational values of preserved areas, and strengthen public appreciation of our natural heritage.”
There now are about 600 designated National Natural Landmark sites sprawled across the U.S., and 10 of them are in Oregon.