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Colville cattle ranch permanently protected as working ranch

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Heart of Dawson family ranch business will never be subdivided

"This conservation easement is a great program that won't work for everybody, but it worked for us," says John Dawson. "It's good for wildlife and helps the economy of ranching communities."

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Aug 10, 2011

COLVILLE - John and Melva Dawson recently entered into agreements with Inland Northwest Land Trust and with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that will conserve 504 acres of their working cattle ranch located a few miles north of Colville. The agreements, called conservation easements, allow traditional uses like farming, ranching, and forestry but permanently prevent subdivision and unwanted development of the property. “This conservation easement is a great program that won’t work for everybody, but it worked for us,” says John Dawson. “It’s good for wildlife and helps the economy of ranching communities.”

NRCS and Conservation Northwest raised the funds to purchase development rights from the Dawsons on 167 acres of highly productive hay and pasture land and a riparian wetland. On the remaining 337 acres of mixed grass and forest land, Conservation Northwest raised funds to pay a reduced price for the development rights, reflecting value donated by John and Melva Dawson. INLT will hold the conservation easements and ensure that the protections are enforced in perpetuity. The Dawsons still own and manage the land and pay property taxes and may sell or pass the ranch to their heirs. They will continue to run their working cattle ranch subject to the terms of the easements.

In addition to their family land, the Dawsons hold grazing leases on over 14,000 acres of private and public lands. “Keeping ranchers like the Dawsons on the ranch through tools such as conservation easements means that many thousands of acres, both owned and leased, will remain in open space and continue to provide habitat for wildlife that use and move through these lands,” says Jay Kehne of Conservation Northwest. “Without a viable home ranch, the Dawsons could very well give up their leases on adjoining private grounds, and given the current economy those lands would most likely be sold for development.”

It took many partners to bring this deal together. Some of the funding comes from NRCS’ Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses and to protect prime soils. Conservation Northwest invested significant time and money to help make this project a success. Inland Northwest Land Trust applied for to NRCS for FRPP funding and negotiated the easement agreements and is bound to enforce the terms of the easements in perpetuity. And many individual donors made contributions to cover the costs of this transaction.

As part of the deal the Dawsons gave up significant development rights. Reflecting on this project, John Dawson said, “It took a lot of time and partners working together and I thank everyone who helped and contributed. It would be good to see more ranchers have this opportunity and more funds for the program.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife places high value on this property. According to area biologist Dana Base, its uplands provide habitat for several important species of birds, mammals, and reptiles, including the bald and golden eagles, white-headed and pileated woodpeckers, flammulated owl, western bluebird, and pygmy nuthatch. The property also provides valuable habitat for deer and elk.

The Dawsons are long-time residents of Colville. Inland Northwest Land Trust and Conservation Northwest hope that this project will interest other ranchers in conservation easements and eventually protect even more important habitat lands and preserve a rural way of life.

"The land trust is all about conserving working lands and wildlife habitat, like the Dawson place,” says Inland Northwest Land Trust Executive Director Chris DeForest. “The home place is the heart of that valley, and the Dawsons are a cornerstone of the local economy."

Inland Northwest Land Trust (INLT) is a non-profit conservation organization founded in 1991 whose mission is to protect the region’s natural lands, waters, and working farms and forests for the benefit of wildlife, our community, and future generations. Working with willing, private landowners, INLT has helped conserve over 11,000 acres of prime wetlands, forests, and open space in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

For more information about Inland Northwest Land Trust, call Chris DeForest at 509-328-2939 or visit

For more information about Conservation Northwest, call 509-470-1767 or visit

For more information about the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program contact Monica Hoover at (360) 704-7784 or visit


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