Property will be given to Colville tribes
The Methow Conservancy is under contract to purchase the historic Wagner Ranch on East Chewuch Road, and will then give the property to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to honor the valley’s Indigenous people.
The Conservancy revealed last week that it intends to purchase the 324-acre property from the Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC), a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that buys and permanently protects land throughout the Western states. The WRC purchased the land in 2018 for about $3.3 million, with the intent of eventually conveying it to the Yakama Nation’s Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Project. The sale was announced in July 2019.
The expectation was that the parcel would be sold to the Yakama Nation using anticipated funding from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Nelson Mathews, vice president of the WRC, said in an interview last week that the BPA had decided not to fund the project. “That approach was not going to work,” Mathews said, so the WRC put the Wagner Ranch back on the market.
The Wagner Ranch is about 5 miles north of Winthrop, east of the Chewuch River. Because of its scenic setting including a pond, pastures and a pristine collection of buildings, the ranch is well-known to locals and visitors who travel on East Chewuch Road. The ranch includes 1.6 miles of Chewuch River frontage, and adjoins a 14,800-acre unit of the Methow Wildlife Area.
Jason Paulsen, executive director of the Methow Conservancy, said in an interview last week that the conservancy had been in contact with the Colville Tribes about buying the property several years ago, but a possible deal fell through. The WRC then purchased the ranch.
“We had been watching it [the Wagner Ranch property], wondering about it,” Paulsen said, because the expected sale to the Yakama Nation had not occurred.
“When we learned in June that the Wagner Ranch property was back on the open market, we realized there was an opportunity to do something right for the land and for the people who have always called this valley home,” Paulsen said in a statement. “We’ve been honored to be in conversation with Methow descendants and leadership of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville
Reservation to understand that owning a significant piece of property in the Upper Valley is a powerful next step in reestablishing acknowledgement of the Methow People.”
“The Chewuch Valley and Wagner Ranch are part of the Methow homeland where the ancestors of our people have fished, hunted, gathered, and practiced their traditional cultures for millennia and it is that relationship with the lands and waters of the Methow that inspires our commitment to anadromous fisheries habitat protection and restoration there,” said Andy Joseph Jr., chairman of the Colville Business Council. “Ownership of the Wagner Ranch would represent a small, but significant, step toward redressing historical injustices and dispossession of the Methow People’s ancestral lands and allow the Tribes to protect and restore significant salmon and steelhead habitat.”
Paulsen said the conservancy is “absolutely confident in their [the tribes’] intentions… their expressed interest is to preserve it as habitat.”
The property is listed at $3.6 million. Paulsen said negotiations over the sale price are being kept confidential. Meanwhile, the Methow Conservancy is hustling to raise the funds necessary to purchase the land. Several donors stepped up with significant contributions, and as of late last week the conservancy was within about $1.1 million of its fundraising goal. “We’re really gratified with the response,” Paulsen said. “We have every confidence that we will close the deal soon.”
Mathews said the WRC was pleased when the Methow Conservancy expressed interest in the property. “It was great when they contacted us,” he said. “We’re glad we could keep the opportunity alive.”
Paulsen said the conservancy intends to make a gift of all the property, but added that a small “uplands,” non-riparian portion of the ranch that is east of East Chewuch Road might be sold to help finance the purchase if necessary. At the same time the Wagner Ranch purchase was announced in 2019, the WRC said it was buying the Stafford Ranch, a 35-acre parcel fronting Highway 20 and straddling the Methow River east of Mazama. Mathews of the WRC said the hoped-for BPA funding was expected to help with that purchase as well, and that now the property will be “privately conveyed.”
Windermere Real Estate Winthrop Valley is the listing agent for the Wagner Ranch property, as it was in the previous transaction.
According to “The Smiling Country, a History of the Methow Valley,” by former 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 of Windermere Real Estate said the ranch was later sold to the Haub family, owners of Sun Mountain Lodge, more than 40 years ago. The Wagners also largely financed the Winthrop Westernization project.
For more information, visit https://methowconservancy.org/news/entry/faq_land_justice. You can donate to the purchase effort by mailing a check to Methow Conservancy, P.O. Box 71, Winthrop, WA 98862, with “Land Justice — Methow People” written in the memo section of the check. You can also make a secure online donation at the conservancy’s website, https://methowconservancy.org.