Rock formations on the Figlenski Ranch, with the Okanogan Valley and the North Cascades beyond. Photo: Justin Haug

OMAK - According to the Colville Confederated Tribes and Conservation Northwest, 9,200 acres of rangeland between Riverside and Omak in Okanogan County has been returned to its original owners.

On Thursday, October 7, Seattle-based Conservation Northwest closed on the purchase of 9,243 acres in the Tunk Valley of Okanogan County. The property was bought with the $4.6 million raised from private donors. The deed to the land was transferred directly to the Tribes, whose reservation is just south of the property.

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The property was sold by Figlenski Ranches LLC, who owned the property since 1904.

The recently-acquired span of land, which is situated between Riverside and Omak, was part of the original Colville Reservation that stretched to the Canadian border until Congress shrunk it in 1892 by removing the 1.5 million acres known today as the “North Half.”

The property is the east-west habitat corridor linking the Cascade Mountains to the Kettle River Mountain Range. Carnivores like lynx and wolverines reside on the property.

The ranch had been actively on the market since 2015, when the Tunk Block Fire burned Ernie Figlenski’s home and those of his recently deceased brother and parents. Ernie recently sold the eastern 3,000 acres to a neighboring ranch (that is putting it under easement) and over 500 acres in its northeast corner to a California developer, who is subdividing it for housing. The remaining 9,243 acres will now be conserved and will not be broken up for development.

Andy Joseph, Jr., Chairman, Colville Business Council:

“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. Our tribal members have close ties to their homelands through familial experience, knowledge of the history and of gathering areas, and stories learned from their Elders. Having added the land to our sovereign control and with improved access, our members will now create new shared experiences and a growing sense of the land while creating memories. We are grateful to the Figlenski family and Conservation Northwest in making this possible. The importance of the protection of wildlife corridors from the Cascades to the Rockies cannot be forgotten and we as a tribe are honored to be a part of this important work of wildlife protection.”

 Mitch Friedman, Executive Director of Conservation Northwest: 

“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. 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. 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.”

In February of 2021, Figlenski died while tending to his cattle in the frigid cold; he was 65 years old.

Tribes plan to use conserve the land and use it for hunting, fishing, medicine gathering and rituals.