Cheuwch River site will be preserved for fish restoration
The Methow Conservancy followed through on its pledge to donate the historic Wagner Ranch to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation with a signing ceremony last week that puts the 328 acres of largely undisturbed riverfront property in the Tribes’ ownership.
In September 2021, The Conservancy announced its intention to purchase the property on East Chewuch Road from the Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC), a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that buys and permanently protects land throughout the Western states, and whose earlier purchase agreement for the ranch fell through. The Conservancy raised the purchase money through donations, with the intent of donating the property to the Tribes.
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.
According to a press release from the Tribes, the land will be held in conservation to protect fish and wildlife habitat.
“The land lies in the heart of traditional Methow territory and the Methow are one of the tribes of the Confederated Colville Tribes,” the press release said. “The land will be conserved under the guidance of Methow descendants through Colville Tribal ownership. The Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife Anadromous Program will continue work in this watershed with this property serving as prime area for salmon recovery efforts.”
There may also be potential for restoration of native plants and wildlife, the press release said. “The Tribes will pursue habitat improvements and educational programming to benefit all inhabitants of the valley and surrounding region,” according to the release.
“The Colville Tribes is pleased to receive these lands from the Methow Conservancy,” said Chairman of the Colville Business Council Andrew Joseph Jr. “The land is already being used for cultural activities and to improve fish and wildlife habitats. We accept our responsibility as stewards of this land to preserve a fertile habitat and we appreciate this opportunity to right some of the historical damage done to the Methow.” Sam Naney, president of the Methow Conservancy’s board of directors, said, “The Methow peoples’ legacy of stewardship on these lands should inspire all of us to live humbly and with intention in this beautiful valley. While no single project can resolve the past injustices levied on them and their ancestors, we sincerely hope this small step provides meaningful opportunities for the Methow and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to practice their cultural traditions, to gather, and to regain their time-honored place here in the Methow.”
Sarah Brooks, executive director of the Methow Conservancy, added, “It is simply an honor to be a part of returning this land. It is a special place for fish and wildlife and it just feels right to return the care of this stretch of the river to its original stewards. We appreciate the generosity of our donors who shared the vision that the return of this land matters”
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. That 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), but the BPA decided not to fund the project.
When that deal fell through, the Conservancy followed through with its fundraising campaign and subsequent purchase of the property.
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, former owners of Sun Mountain Lodge, more than 40 years ago. The Wagners also largely financed the Winthrop Westernization project.