Western Rivers Conservancy will convey properties to Yakama Nation
The historic Wagner Ranch on East Chewuch Road and the smaller Stafford Ranch on Highway 20 near Mazama have been purchased by the Western Rivers Conservancy to be preserved and managed for fish habitat restoration efforts in the Methow Valley.
The Western Rivers Conservancy is a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that buys and permanently protects land throughout the Western states. The organization typically purchases the properties with the intent of turning them over to another entity for management — “the best long-term steward available,” according to the conservancy’s literature.
To that end, it is expected that the two Methow Valley properties will eventually be conveyed to the Yakama Nation’s Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Project.
According to real estate transaction websites, the Wagner Ranch sold for about $3.3 million in October 2018. The sale was not announced by the Western Rivers Conservancy until recently. The sale price for the Stafford Ranch was not immediately available.
The Wagner Ranch is a 328-acre parcel east of the Chewuch River, about 5 miles north of Winthrop. Because of its scenic setting including a pond, pastures and pristine collection of buildings, the ranch is well-known to locals and visitors who travel on East Chewuch Road. The Stafford Ranch is a 35-acre parcel fronting Highway 20 and straddling the Methow River east of Mazama. It is currently in agricultural use.
The Wagner Ranch includes 1.6 miles of Chewuch River frontage, and adjoins a 14,800-acre unit of the Methow Wildlife Area. The Stafford property “controls a large swath of Methow River frontage on both sides of the main stem and possesses a critical groundwater right,” according to the conservancy. The Methow Community Trail crosses the Stafford Ranch.
In accompanying material about the purchases, the conservancy said that “our efforts will enable critically needed restoration of salmon and steelhead habitat while conserving hundreds of acres of prime forestland, wetlands, river frontage and flood plain habitat within a landscape of protected areas. Both ranches are at high risk of being subdivided and developed barring WRC’s successful efforts to protect them.”
The conservancy hosted a community gathering at the Wagner Ranch last Friday (June 28), where several of the organization’s representatives talked about the purchases. Conservancy Vice-president Nelson Mathews told the gathering that the conservancy has been looking for and buying properties for more than 30 years, operating under the motto “sometimes to protect the river you have to buy it.”
Mathews said the conservancy reached out to people in the Methow Community and to the Yakama Nation while pursuing the purchases. “Our job is to buy the property and convey it to them [the Yakamas] for management and restoration,” he said.
Hans Smith, a habitat biologist in the Winthrop office of the Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Project, said the project will looking at possible options and best scenarios for restoration work on both rivers. For more information, visit http://yakamafish-nsn.gov/restore/projects/uchrp.
“The tribe plans to conduct extensive restoration of side channels, flood plains, wetlands, river frontage and riparian areas for the benefit of fish and wildlife,” according to the conservancy’s information.
Both property transactions were handled by Windermere Real Estate Methow Valley, owned by Bob and Delene Monetta. Mathews described the Monettas as “key to our success” in negotiating the purchases.
The Western Rivers Conservancy has been involved in other Washington state transactions, including projects along Icicle Creek, the Skagit, Snake, Columbia, Hoh, Cowlitz and Chehalis rivers, and Nason Ridge near Lake Wenatchee. It has also been active in Oregon, Idaho, California, Montana, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. The organization has offices in Portland, Olympia, San Francisco and Denver.
According to the conservancy’s website, “We acquire land to conserve critical habitat, provide public access for compatible use and enjoyment, and cooperate with other agencies and organizations to secure the health of whole ecosystems. Our partners include government agencies, private corporations, Native American tribes, family landowners and many others.” For more information, visit www.westernrivers.org.
According to “The Smiling Country, a History of the Methow Valley,” by Winthrop librarian Sally Portman, Otto and Kay Wagner purchased the Twisp lumber mill in 1939. The Wagners eventually bought what was then called the Leedy place on East Chewuch Road. Delene Monetta said the ranch was later sold to the Haub family, owners of Sun Mountain Lodge, 42 years ago. The Wagners also largely financed the Winthrop Westernization project.