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ENTERPRISE, OR-The Nature Conservancy has purchased nearly 42 square miles of Zumwalt Prairie, the largest purchase of Oregon land in the organization’s 50-year history.

The 220-acre Zumwalt Prairie is North America’s largest remaining expanse of native bunchgrass prairie. Remote and relatively little-known, it supports extraordinary wildlife populations, including the densest known concentration of breeding birds of prey in the nation. The Nature Conservancy will manage its 42-square-mile preserve to safeguard critical habitats for native wildlife, fish and rare plants.

The land is on the western rim of Hells Canyon, where gently rolling grasslands drop off steeply into the Imnaha and Snake River canyons. The Nature Conservancy’s Purchase, the 26,879-acre Camp Creek Ranch property, was to be sold at public auction on Sept. 26 by its owner, the Children’s Community Foundation of Lenexa, KS. The auction was cancelled by JP King Auction Co. when the owners accepted the Conservancy’s offer.

The Nature Conservancy is raising $16 million to establish the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, including the $11.7 million purchase price, loan interest costs, new preserve start-up and an endowment to fund long-term management of the property. Glen Boyd and Eli Shapira, two co-founders of the Portland-based Internet software company Webtrends, donated $5 million to jump-start the process.

“It has been said that in the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy,” says Russell Hoeflich, the Conservancy’s Oregon Director. “We are indebted to Eli Shapira, Glen Boyd and their company, who… are setting a standard for private philanthropy in land conservation. We hope that their generosity will lead other Oregonians to pitch in to save Zumwalt Prairie and all of Oregon’s last great places.”

The Conservancy will continue making property tax payments to Wallowa County, and the group will study the land, its wildlife and ecological functions before making decisions about grazing, hunting, habitat restoration and other management objectives, says Macdonald. “We’re not in a rush to change things,” notes Catherine Macdonald, the Nature Conservancy’s conservation director for Oregon. “We need to take some time to learn more about it before we put together a comprehensive management plan.”

The Conservancy is an international, non-profit organization with a mission of safeguarding Earth’s biological diversity using cooperative, science-based methods. It has more than one million members nationwide and over 28,000 in Oregon. It owns or cooperatively manages more than 1,300 nature preserves, including 49 in Oregon.

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