Kalispel Conservation

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.”

Day 8: Along The River to Idaho

The librarian in Ione warned me that a cold front would come in around midnight, and so it did. There were gusts of wind, light rain, and blessed relief. The dawn came up cloudy with a fresh wind from the south. We had 76 miles to go but it was flat, and without the heat and the climbs of past days it seemed almost easy.

If yesterday’s ride was like the Western Adirondacks, today’s ride was a bit like the shoreline of two Adirondack lakes – one that hasn’t been discovered by rich jerks yet, and one that has. LeClerk Road runs along the east bank of the drowned Pend Oreille River. It feels like a road that would get a lot of traffic on weekends when people are at their lake homes, but on a Tuesday morning it was empty. Herons fished on the shore and raptors watched for their breakfast as we rode past. Our mountain-toned legs ate up the road, and we did 30 miles in the first two hours. The houses were mostly older, small, and tucked away in the vast scenery. Across the river, cars screamed along State Route 20, ignoring it all.

Around 9am we entered the Kalispel Indian Reservation. The contrast was dramatic. Where we had been riding past ranchettes and old farms, at the border the land opened up and an open field of 440 acres stretched down to the shore. A sign explained that it was a wildlife mitigation project, paid for by the Bonneville Power Authority and managed by the tribe, to compensate for the loss of habitat caused by the construction of Albeni Falls Dam. The tribe is managing the land for geese, mallard, muskrat, deer, eagle, yellow warbler, and black-capped chickadee. A few miles up the road we got a quick overview of the Kalispel’s ambitious plans for the environmental restoration of their ancestral lands from Deane Osterman, the tribe’s Director of Natural Resources (see separate post).

Deane had to run to a tribal council meeting so we pushed on, using the “peloton” technique to compensate for a headwind. A peloton is when riders fan out in a vertical line, like geese, and take turns being in front. The lead rider breaks the wind so the ones behind him can rest. We got our average speed up from 12 miles per hour to 17 miles per hour this way, according to Jim’s handlebar calculator of speed, distance, temperature, and other things. He consults this constantly. I’m glad he does, so I don’t have to.

Past the Kalispel lands the ride turned back into cattle and alfalfa farms, with the water in the distance to the right. Deane had explained just how much damage the dams have done to the river, but a tourist wouldn’t know that. It still is beautiful. We rode into Newport-Old Town at noon, ate lunch and drank hot coffee at a Safeway supermarket cafe, met up with Sara and Catherine, and after a jolly time we headed into Idaho. Washington had been our route for eight days and about 400 miles, or one-tenth of the entire trip.

We crossed the Pend Oreille and rode eastward along its south bank. Once again, the Adventure Cycling folks had clued us into a beautiful rural road that skipped the congested highway. We had 27 miles to go to our destination, Round Lake State Park near Sandpoint. The scenery improved. In fact, it became tremendous. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see Robert Redford waving to us from the roadside. Unfortunately, Californians seem to have discovered the Idaho Panhandle. We saw lots of signs for subdivisions with ridiculous names. One was named “Willow Shores” but was covered with pine trees. What was really depressing was the asking prices. Second-home McMansions, those colossal monuments to bloated ego, seem destined for this place. I hope the housing bust lasts long enough for the locals to organize a land trust.

Circular rolls of golden fresh-baled hay were scattered through fields like game pieces. Behind them were stately mountains we didn’t have to climb. Along one stretch was a series of hacking platforms occupied by nesting pairs of ospreys. This was the longest ride of the trip so far, and for the last few miles the three of us were very tired, but tomorrow is a rest day. Round Lake was cold, the showers were hot, and Sara filled our bellies with bratwurst.