Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon's northeastern corner, is North America's largest remaining grassland of its type.
Zumwalt Prairie Preserve Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon's northeastern corner, is North America's largest remaining grassland of its type. © Rick McEwan

Places We Protect

Zumwalt Prairie Preserve


Oregon's northeast corner is home to a remarkable number of hawks, eagles and other wildlife.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated 4,400 acres of Zumwalt Prairie Preserve as a National Natural Landmark.

Why You Should Visit

Studying the prairie's ecosystem for nearly 20 years led The Nature Conservancy to protect this great place — because of its size, intact bunch grass habitats and incredible concentrations of wildlife. Your support is vital to maintaining and restoring this landscape essential to Oregon's culture, heritage and economy.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

In 2000, The Nature Conservancy purchased 27,000 acres of the Zumwalt Prairie, the largest Oregon acquisition in the organization's history. In 2006, we added 6,065 acres, making the 51-square-mile preserve Oregon's biggest private nature sanctuary.

The Nature Conservancy's Zumwalt Prairie Preserve is managed to support and advance conservation across the larger Zumwalt Prairie, while also providing high quality and diverse habitat for native species on the Preserve. The Conservancy aspires to achieve and sustain conservation values in the context of sustainable livestock grazing as the predominant economic land use across this privately-owned landscape. Further, the Conservancy donates bull elk and buck deer LOP tags to local service organization raffles each year. To date, the tags have raised nearly $300,000 for Wallowa County charities.

Conservancy scientists, University researchers and volunteer teams engage in ongoing surveying, monitoring and studying the area’s animals and plant communities. Managed livestock grazing, prescribed fire and protection of vulnerable aspen and shrub communities from over-browsing are used to improve plant health and diversity on the preserve.

The Conservancy works with ranchers across the Zumwalt landscape to maintain the ecological health of the prairie and the economic viability of working ranches. The struggle to suppress damaging invasive plants in Wallowa County — such as sulfur cinquefoil, meadow hawkweed and common bugloss — has also brought diverse interests together. Through invasive species mapping, monitoring and removal, the Conservancy and its partners are working to maintain and improve habitat for the prairie’s iconic species, including Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, Spalding’s catchfly and quaking aspen.

In addition, Conservancy ecologists and volunteers are working to restore riparian areas for fish and birds. Strategies include protecting sensitive areas from overgrazing, planting native vegetation along stream banks, improving stream channel form and function, removing stream blockages and monitoring fish populations. 

What to See: Plants

This diverse preserve hosts nearly a dozen native bunch grasses and over 100 wildflower species. Early in the season, hoary balsamroot, camas and silky lupine put on a spectacular display. Later, goldenrod, pleated gentian, Gardner's yampah and other species continue to provide color and food for pollinating insects. The preserve is also home to one of the largest populations of the threatened Spalding's catchfly which blooms in mid- to late-July.

What to See: Animals

Abundant ground squirrels and other prey support one of the highest known concentrations of breeding raptors in North America. Ferruginous and Swainson's hawks, on the decline throughout the West, thrive here, along with golden eagles and prairie falcons. The prairie is also home to several ground-nesting songbirds including Savannah, vesper, grasshopper and Brewer’s sparrows. During the fall and winter, rough-legged hawks can be spotted after migrating south from arctic breeding grounds.

Large mammals found on the prairie include elk, mule deer, black bear and cougar. The preserve is also a great place to see coyote, short-tailed weasel and badger. Butterflies and snakes (including rattlesnakes) are other animals visitors may observe, and Snake River steelhead, federally listed as a threatened species, spawn in seven miles of the preserve's 51 miles of intermittent and perennial streams, as do inland redband trout.

Preserve access is day use and by foot only.

Please observe the following guidelines while hiking:

  • Stay on the trail. Don't collect plants, insects or other species or disturb soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers.
  • No dogs. Preserves harbor ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
  • No bicycles or motorized vehicles. Native plants and research sites are easily trampled.
  • No hunting, camping or campfires.
  • Please leave all gates as you find them.
  • Please bring a bag and carry out any trash you find.
  • Please report to us any problems you observe (e.g., camping, plant removal, hunting, off-road vehicle damage, etc).

If you have questions, comments or want to volunteer at the preserve, please contact Zumwalt Prairie staff at (541) 426-3458. Enjoy your visit!