Why we do the work that we do

"Take a deep breath and smell the goodness in the world." That is what I am telling myself as I stand atop the snowy crest of the East Moraine of Oregon's Wallowa Lake. Surrounded by astonishing views of Wallowa Lake, the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon, it's a bit easier to let the stresses of the world slide away, even if just for a moment.

By Kathleen Ackley February 26, 2020
A hiker stands atop a rock in the snow in Wallowa Lake's East Moraine

Working in the land conservation community, we often get so absorbed with the daily details of our work that we fail to take time to celebrate the wins. We're off to the next thing or mired in getting caught up in the endless stream of email. Everything has to be done now! I am probably guilty of that more than most. The fact is, I am only just now celebrating a huge victory for our small rural land trust that happened a month ago.

Wallowa Land Trust led the acquisition(link is external) of one of the most iconic landscapes in the state of Oregon, and yet, until now, I truly hadn't taken a moment to absorb the enormity of this incredible feat.

Located just outside the town of Joseph and at the base of the Wallowa Mountain Range, the Wallowa Lake Moraines are among the most classic and complete examples of Pleistocene (Ice Age) moraines found in North America, offering unparalleled education on geology, ecology, glacial history and climate change. Often referred to as "textbook perfect," these moraines are between 300,000 and 19,000 years old and are featured in geology textbooks across the nation. The 3,000-acre East Moraine is the largest undeveloped moraine of the Wallowa Lake assemblage and was, until last month, entirely privately owned.

After a decade of effort, we were able to purchase more than 60% of this incredible landscape — almost 1,800 acres. It was a huge effort made successful by vast community support and a committed partnership that included a sister nonprofit focused on natural resources, the local county government and state parks. It was anything but easy. After years of negotiations going nowhere and development on the Moraine looming, we were sure the end was near. As the holidays approached in late 2018, we decided to make a last-ditch effort to acquire the property and presented a final offer to the landowner. Much to our surprise, they said yes to a sale price of $6 million. But they only gave us a year to do it. Once we signed the Purchase and Sale Agreement in January 2019, we had one year to find the remainder of the funds (we had already raised a portion): more than $3 million.

It seemed pretty impossible to me, but we did it. I am pinching myself as I say that. The outpouring of support from our small, rural community and beyond was astounding. We were able to meet our deadline in January of this year and purchase the property. It is now owned by Wallowa County and will be a model for how rural communities can sustainably manage a mixed-use community forest while protecting native plants, wildlife habitat and cultural resources.

While we closed a month ago, it really is only now just setting in. We did it! And just for a moment, I will enjoy this victory and let all those other things incessantly calling me back at my desk wait. Just for a moment. This is exactly why we do the work that we do, after all. Breathe it in and say thanks to the universe. We deserve it!

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