WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation announced Friday it is acquiring a 277-acre Yamhill County property known as the Red Hills Conservation area through the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program.
The Bonneville Power Administration provides funds for the purchase and protection of land for wildlife habitat as mitigation for the loss of wildlife habitat inundated when federal dams were built on several rivers in the Willamette River Basin, tribal officials said.
"This is a very special day," said tribal council Chairman Austin Greene. "We have never left our ties to the Willamette Valley, and we continue to exercise our rights there. With the Red Hills acquisition, we have land that is available for our special use that strengthens our traditions and cultural ties to the Willamette Valley."
Three years ago, BPA and the state of Oregon signed a landmark memorandum of agreement to jointly protect Willamette Basin wildlife habitat through creation of a mitigation program, the tribe said.
The MOA provided for the involvement by tribes with legal and cultural interests in the Willamette Valley, which also includes the confederated tribes of the Siletz Indians and the Grand Ronde, as well as the city of Eugene, Metro, non-governmental groups like the Nature Conservancy and other interested parties.
The collaborative, public process led to developing criteria to determine properties that would best benefit from a conservation strategy through land acquisition or establishing conservation easements.
The process is similar to the agreement that was developed for the purchase of the Warm Springs tribes' Pine Creek Conservation Area in the John Day Basin, they said.
Last year, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs' Branch of Natural Resources identified the Red Hills property as one that met the memorandum's conservation strategy for conservation lands. Through its review process, the Warm Springs tribes presented the proposal this year, and it was ranked No. 1 out of 16 for ecological values and funding.
Before the ranking occurred, however, another tribe raised objections to the Red Hills proposal, the announcement said, but "after frank and candid discussions" with other entities, including the BPA, the property acquisition was ultimately approved. The Warm Springs tribes cited the leadership of Greene and tribal Councilman Orvie Danzuka for their role in those talks.
The tribal council received notice Aug. 16 from F. Lorraine Bodi, BPA's vice president for environment, fish and wildlife, that the Red Hills proposal had been approved.
The tribes will own the Red Hills lands and manage them for wildlife protection and habitat, they said. While details still must be laid out in a formal management plan, the tribes said there will be opportunities for tribal members to use the Red Hills lands for cultural activities.
"This is a great result for us," Danzuka said in the tribes' announcement. "It was a challenge at times, but we always knew we had the strength of our sovereignty and that this is what we relied upon to overcome the challenges."
"Our treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather at all traditional areas are not limited by new lines on maps, and we cannot let others try to impose limits on us," he added. "The Willamette area and the plants, animals and lands are traditional assets of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs."
"I appreciate BPA's decision to fund Red Hills, specifically Lorri Bodi's leadership and willingness to follow the agreements that are in place where Warm Springs is a full partner in the Willamette lands program," Danzuka added.
Bobby Brunoe, the Warm Springs tribes' natural resources general manager, said, "Tribal members have always used the Valley. My own family made trips from home to the Willamette Valley, keeping alive traditions that have been passed through generations."
"This property is a rare and unique piece of land, with oak woodlands, deer and native plants," Brunoe said. "We will develop a management plan to protect the land and allow for tribal member and public use as appropriate. Both the tribal council and our natural resources staff that developed the Red Hills project and saw it through a tough process did a great job and deserve a lot of credit."
The BPA and the tribes will work with the current owners of Red Hills on the purchase steps in the coming months, and l plan a celebration and commemoration event at the property "in the near future."