The Kalispel Tribe, or the “People of the Pend Oreille River,” is a truly significant conservation partner, particularly since the tribe’s Natural Resources Department (KNRD) and INLC have similar goals: protecting land and water in northern Idaho and eastern Washington. For the Kalispel, the specific focus is the Pend Oreille River drainage.
According to Deane Osterman (Executive Director of Natural Resources), tribal members need to be able to “engage in the same cultural practices as their ancestors.” Because the Kalispel’s original territory was much larger than it is now, the Natural Resources Department works to acquire and restore ancestral lands to their natural state. They cannot do it alone, but must collaborate, an inherent tribal value, with innumerable partners including federal and state government agencies, small municipalities, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners.
Natural resources are so important to the Kalispel that in 1992 they formed the Natural Resources Department. It has been extremely successful, protecting nearly 5,500 acres (beyond the original reservation) as well as three miles of Pend Oreille River shoreline and many miles of related tributary and confluences, including land on both Goose Creek and the upper west branch of the Priest River, for a grand total of over five miles of critical stream habitat preserved for native fish.
First and foremost, the KNRD is successfully improving habitat for native bull trout and cutthroat trout through not only acquiring wildlife habitat for the cold, clear water these trout need, but also facilitating upstream fish passage and retrofitting the tribe’s fish hatchery to accommodate coldwater species. (See the “Creature Feature: Bull Trout” and the Spokesman Review article, http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/feb/20/major-fish-recovery-project-in-ne-washington-and-i/) KNRD has also collaboratively created the Pend Oreille River Water Trail. A huge victory, in conjunction with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, is the virtual elimination of the invasive, predatory northern pike in the Pend Oreille River. Outreach activities, led by Mike Lithgow, Information and Outreach Coordinator, include interactions with youth (tribal and otherwise), in-school presentations, and field trips with tribal experts.
INLC is a crucial collaborative partner, with many shared activities and projects over 20 years. As Ray Entz, Director of Wildlife and Terrestrial Resources and past INLC board member, explains, the two organizations “pass projects back and forth. If somebody is more interested in an easement, and want to retain ownership, than they are with wanting to sell their land, then that card gets dealt over to INLC. And if INLC has someone who just wants to sell, then that card gets passed over to me.”
Looking forward, KNRD will continue to work on acquiring, restoring, and protecting land and water. Bull trout recovery is long-term project, as well as developing the education-focused Indian Creek Community Forest. Mike states, “we want little kids touching little conifer needles.” At INLC, we look forward to continuing our wonderful work with the Kalispel Tribe and their Natural Resources Department.