Red Hills Conservation Area in Yamhill County

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are in the process of acquiring the Red Hills Conservation Area to mitigate for the loss of wildlife habitat when rivers in the Willamette Valley were dammed.The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have acquired a 277-acre property — the Red Hills Conservation Area — through the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation Program.

The land was purchased with funds from the Bonneville Power Administration, to be used for the purchase and protection of land for wildlife habitat as mitigation for the loss of wildlife habitat when federal dams were built on several rivers within the Willamette River Basin.

Tribal Council Chairman Austin Greene commented, "This is a very special day. 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."

In 2010, the BPA and the state of Oregon signed a landmark memorandum of agreement to jointly protect Willamette Basin wildlife habitat through the creation of the Willamette Wildlife Mitigation program. That agreement provided for the involvement of tribes with legal and cultural interest in the Willamette Valley, including Warm Springs, Siletz and Grand Ronde, as well as the city of Eugene, Metro, nongovernmental organizations such as Nature Conservancy, and other interested parties.

The public process led to the development of criteria to determine properties that would best benefit from a conservation strategy through land acquisition or establishment of conservation easements. The agreement was similar to the one developed for the tribes' purchase of the Pine Creek Conservation Area in the John Day Basin.

In 2012, the Warm Springs Branch of Natural Resources identified the Red Hills property, located within Yamhill County, as a property that met the agreement strategy for mitigation lands.

When the tribes presented its proposal in 2013, the proposal was ranked first out of 16 for ecological values and funding.

Even though one of the other tribes raised objections, the acquisition of the property was ultimately approved.

The Tribal Council received the letter of notification Aug. 16, from F. Lorraine Bodi, the BPA's vice president for environment, fish and wildlife.

Warm Springs will own the Red Hills lands, and manage them for the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat. Once a formal management plan is approved, the tribes anticipate that there will be opportunities for tribal members to use the lands for cultural activities.

"This is a great result for us," Councilman Orvie Danzuka pointed out. "It was a challenge at times, but we always knew we had the strenght of our sovereignty, and that 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," said Danzuka, adding that the Willamette area, with its plants, animals and lands, is a traditional cultural asset of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Bobby Brunoe, general manager of the Natural Resources Branch, said that 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," he said.

"This property is a rare and unique piece of land, with oak woodlands, deer and native plants," he continued. "In fact, we are very interested in the opportunity to have camas on this land."

The BPA and the tribes will work with the current owners of Red Hills in the purchase steps in the coming months, and will plan a celebration and commemoration event at the property in the near future.

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