Colville Tribal leaders and staff from Conservation Northwest gather for a ceremony on newly transferred land in North Half

TUNK VALLEY – It may have been just another rainy afternoon in late October, but for some, it was a very special day and moment in history.

For members and descendants of the Colville Confederated Tribes and those working at Conservation Northwest, it was a day to celebrate.

It was also a day to give thanks and appreciation as Colville Confederated Tribes Business Council Chairman Andy Joseph Jr., along with fellow CBC councilman Jerred-Michael Erickson and dozens of Colville elders and youth joined leaders and staff from Conservation Northwest to celebrate the successful transfer of 9,243 acres from the Figlenski Ranch to the Colville Confederated Tribes on Friday (Oct. 22) afternoon.

“Our deepest appreciation goes out to all those who helped to return the land through their generous donations, especially the Figlenski Family and Conservation Northwest who followed this vision to reality,” said Joseph. “We are grateful to the Figlenski family and Conservation Northwest for making this possible.”

“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. We are honored to receive this land.”

Over 100 people attended the ceremony including students from Paschal Sherman Indian School, as all were able to celebrate with a lunch catered by Longhorn Barbecue. Members of the Figlenski family were present at the ceremony.

For Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest, it was a day he’ll never forget. 

“A culmination of a lot of work and with all the hours and years I spent trying to get this property protected for wildlife, I never imagined that it would all come together in as positive of a way as it has,” Friedman expressed. “Restoring a piece of the North Half, having the family feel that their legacy is perpetuated, have the Tribe hold this ceremony, it’s the highlight of my life.”

Friedman estimates that he spent around 10-15 years working on this particular project.

“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,” said Friedman. “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. There are a lot of people from all over the state here today, because this was so monumental.”

Because of its location, the ranch is described as a linchpin in the east-west habitat corridor and is a key that links the Cascade Mountains to the Kettle River Range and eventually the Rockies.

“For us, its most important natural capacity is to provide for carnivores like lynx and wolverines to be able to pass between the Cascades and the Rockies,” says Friedman. “This is the only place where those species can still cross the Okanogan Valley to link to Kettle Range and Ferry County and the Cascades,”

“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. I’m honored and moved to have been a part of something so momentous.”

The acquisition is part of a long-running public-private coalition effort called the Working for Wildlife Initiative, which is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and coordinated by Conservation Northwest.

The property is located in the Tunk Valley of Okanogan County and is just a little north of the border of the Colville Indian Reservation and was part of the Tribes’ original reservation up until 1892.

It’s also a link for the north-south corridor, linking British Columbia’s arid grasslands for shrub-steppe species like sharp-tailed grouse and badgers to the sagelands of the Columbia Basin.

“This is some of the best sharptail grouse habitat,” said Friedman. “It’s got reproduction sights on the ranch that the tribe and the state are very concerned about. So for cultural purposes, the sharptail grouse are very important.”

The Seattle-based Conservation Northwest purchased the land on October 7 as they raised more than 4.6 million in funds from private donors. The total cost would end up being $4,621,500.

The deed was then transferred directly to the Colville Confederated Tribes along with a protective covenant that formalizes the conservation values of the property.

Joseph expressed that the land will be used for traditional use such as medicine gathering, hunting, and fishing along with other conservation efforts for the reintroduction of certain animals (i.e. wolverines and lynx).

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.

Below is a list provided by Conservation Northwest of all those that helped generously donate the funding needed for the purchase of the Figlenski Ranch:

$250,000-$1,000,000 level – The Nature Conservancy  Anonymous (2)  Daryl and Michele Connell  David and Linda Cornfield  Ellen Ferguson  Icicle Fund  Mycorrhizal Fund

$100,000 - $249,999 level – Anonymous  Peter Goldman and Martha Kongsgaard  McDanel Land Foundation  Kyle and Michele Peltonen

$5,000 - $99,999 level – Anonymous (2)  Brian Arbogast and Valerie Tarico  Matthew Bannick  Victoria Bennett  Eric and Luann Berman  Jabe Blumenthal and Julie Edsforth  Bill Booth  Jonathon Cooper and Diane Doles  Joan Crooks and Don Davies  Bill Donnelly  Michael Dryfoos and Ilga Jansons  Larry Engel and Kate Battuello  Brian Hall and Edie Sonne Hall  Steve Hansen  Andy and Freeman Held  Thomas Hinckley  Charles and Marie Hoffman  Greg James  George and Mary Ann Joy  Joseph Joy and Chandana Surlu  Rik and Janis Littlefield  Bert Loosmore  Alex Loeb and Ethan McGinnis  Larry O’Neil  Quick Response Fund for Nature  Gary Rygmyr and Jennifer Warburton  Richard and Kristin Saada  Robert Short and Emer Dooley  Larry Small  Steve and Liann Sundquist  Laura Tiberti  Matt Uyttendaele and Elizabeth Johnson

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