When we rode down LeClerk Road on Day 8, south along the Pend Oreille River, we passed through the reservation of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. The forests were healthy, the open space unusually diverse, and their wildlife management area beautiful. Jim and I pulled into tribal headquarters and were lucky to run into Deane Osterman, Executive Director of Natural Resources for the Tribe. Deane is a serious, fast-talking guy who has clearly studied this stuff. He calls himself a “wildlife warrior.”
The Kalispel’s ancestral territory ran to 4.2 million acres, but the U.S. government reservation they got in 1914 is 4,600 acres strung along the river. “What the treaties did was cut away our rights to the land,” said Deane. “Our long-term goal is to restore the land.”
The tribe has acquired about 5,000 more acres outside their original grant to manage as conservation lands, using settlement money from suits against the Bonneville Power Administration and other entities that have damaged the habitat. “Most of this land had just been pounded,” he said. “And the Pend Orelle is the watershed most impacted by hydro development in the Pacific Northwest.” There are at least eight dams on the river, which flows northward from Idaho into Canada, does a 180 degree turn, and dumps into the Columbia River right at the border. “The summer water temperature can be eighty degrees, and native fish like salmon cannot live in water that warm,” he said. “There are no native fish left in the river.”
One part of the Tribe’s wildlife farm raises large-mouth bass for the Pend Oreille. This is controversial because bass are non-native, but Osterman says the Tribe is encouraging sustenance hunting and fishing for its members. They also plan to pour Rotenone into a tributary, Cee Cee Au Creek, to kill all the the brook trout, which are not native, then re-introduce native cutthroat trout. North of their land is what Deane says is the most endangered animal in America – an American species of caribou. There are about 25 left. “Caribou, bull trout — they are really Pleistocine species, and now with climate change they’re just blinking out,” he said. “That is really sad.”
The Kalispel operate a large casino outside of Spokane, but Osterman’s department is self-sustaining from settlement money. “It really is a war for wildlife,” he said. “And land trusts play a critical role. Sometimes we can’t get ourselves in gear fast enough to make a land purchase we want, but they can.” The Tribe is making a major contribution to the Inland Northwest Land Trust to further their partnership.
Our fifteen minutes were up. “Got to go,” said Deane. “Can’t keep the Tribal Council waiting.”