Conservation groups assist Colville Confederated Tribes to acquire massive Okanogan land tract

Conservation groups assist Colville Confederated Tribes to acquire massive Okanogan land tract

Conservation Northwest / Oct 07, 2021 / Cascades to Rockies, Connecting Habitat, Okanogan Working for Wildlife

The 9,243 acre property is both an ecological linchpin and part of the Tribes’ original reservation.

NESPELEM, WA – On Thursday, October 7, Seattle-based Conservation Northwest closed on the purchase of 9,243 acres in the Tunk Valley of Okanogan County, north-central Washington. The property was purchased with funds raised from private donors, and the deed transferred directly to the Colville Confederated Tribes (“the Tribes”), whose reservation is a short distance south of the property.

Rock formations on the Figlenski Ranch, with the Okanogan Valley and the North Cascades beyond. Photo: Justin Haug

The property was sold by Figlenski Ranches, LLC, and is the heart of a family cattle operation that dates back to 1904. It also is part of the original Colville Reservation that stretched to the Canadian border until Congress shrunk it in 1892 by removing the 1.5 million acres known today as the “North Half.”

The ranch is the linchpin property in the east-west habitat corridor linking the Cascade Mountains to the Kettle River Mountain Range (and the Rockies beyond) for carnivores like lynx and wolverines.

This acquisition is part of a long-running public-private coalition effort to protect that corridor called the Working for Wildlife Initiative, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The property is also vital to the north-south corridor linking the sagelands of the Columbia Basin to British Columbia’s arid grasslands for shrub-steppe species like sharp-tailed grouse and badgers.

The deed has an associated covenant that the Colville Business Council approved in February. That covenant articulates the stewardship vision and conservation objectives of the Tribes for this property. Additional context and detailed ecological and historical information can be found at this link.

Quote of Andy Joseph, Jr., Chairman, Colville Business Council:

“On behalf of the Colville Tribes, I am excited to have 9,243 acres of the homelands of the Okanogan people returned to the Tribes’ ownership. Our tribal members have close ties to their homelands through familial experience, knowledge of the history and of gathering areas, and stories learned from their Elders. Having added the land to our sovereign control and with improved access, our members will now create new shared experiences and a growing sense of the land while creating memories. We are grateful to the Figlenski family and Conservation Northwest in making this possible. The importance of the protection of wildlife corridors from the Cascades to the Rockies cannot be forgotten and we as a tribe are honored to be a part of this important work of wildlife protection.”

Quotes of Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest:

“Helping the Tribes re-acquire this property for conservation and culture was essential to the future for iconic wildlife from the Cascades to the Rockies. On this vital ground we bring together landscape conservation and environmental justice.”

“This may be the most rewarding and meaningful action that I’ve been involved in. We served as a conduit for so many people—including our donors and the Figlenski family, to help restore ownership of this land to its historic stewards. We are making a statement here that Injustices can be redressed.”

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why is this property important ecologically? Not only does the Figlenski Ranch contain leks (breeding sites) of sharp-tailed grouse, which Washington considers a species of greatest concern, but this property is the lynchpin to habitat corridors running east to west (linking the Cascades and Rockies for carnivores) and north to south (linking arid grasslands between the Columbia Basin and B.C. Okanagan).

How much did the purchase cost? The property had been appraised at $500/acre, so the total cost was $4,621,500.

What constraints will the Tribes have in management? The Colville Tribes understands land encumbered by an easement has limitations, but the requirements are consistent with tribal management goals and objectives. The Colville Business Council accepted language for a protective covenant that is now permanently attached to the deed. The highest use of this property for the Tribes includes regaining part of its historic reservation and Okanogan Tribe territory, subsistence hunting, subsistence and medicinal gathering, and the high cultural significance of sharp-tailed grouse.

Will the public have access to the property? The Tribes intends to manage the property similar to most of its lands. The nontribal public is welcome to visit for hiking, wildlife viewing, and other temporary and non-consumptive uses so long as they are respectful of that privilege.

Where can I learn more about the tribal history of the area? More information about the history, cultures, and territories of the 12 Tribes of the Colville Confederation can be found here.

 

Special thanks to The Nature Conservancy for their generous support of this campaign. More on our work in the Cascades to Rockies wildlife corridor is available ON THIS WEBPAGE
The Okanogan Valley and the North Cascades beyond, seen from the Figlenski Ranch in the Tunk Valley. Photo: Justin Haug