Washington tribe's work reintroducing wildlife may serve as model for other tribes
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. —Cody Desautel, director of Natural Resources for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville (CTC) Reservation in Washington State, sees his tribe’s work with reintroducing wildlife to the lands as a model for other tribes.
The 12 tribes of the CTC have 9,400 members on 1.4 million acres sitting on the border with British Columbia. Colville is located about four hours east of Seattle, but Seattle gets about 80 inches of rain per year while Colville has to settle for 10 inches of rain per year.
Desautel said the CTC has been very successful with reintroducing a number of species including elk.
The CTC’s decades long wildlife programs recently reintroduced lynx cats back into the wild, and has significantly improved the Chinook salmon numbers, helping both tribal and non-tribal communities. They have also reintroduced sharp-tailed grouse.
The CTC has worked with many other tribes and several states’ fish and wildlife departments to enhance wildlife.
Desautel is proud of CTC’s natural resources program, but he said there are many other tribes that do great work, including two in Arizona. He said San Carlos Apache is known for its work with wildlife and the White Mountain Apache are known for its elk program.
Desautel also serves as president of the Intertribal Timber Council, which is a national group working on forest and fire management, a traditional method using prescribed burns to avoid larger forest fires.
The most recent release involved the lynx, which was historically on CTC land, but had not been seen there for years because of being mostly eradicated by trappers and habitat loss. The CTC has released five lynx so far with a goal of releasing 50 planned during the next five years. CTC borders British Columbia and the lynx were brought in from there with the help of Conservation Northwest.
Desautel said the reintroduction of the lynx to CTC had been in the works for years and Washington state is the south end of the lynx range.
“We thought it was important to bring them back. We were working with our neighbors and found the perfect habitat connected to forest service property,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling to watch them be released because it’s righting a wrong due to human actions.”
The increase of Chinook salmon may be the tribe’s most successful wildlife story. Three years ago, CTC tribal biologists trucked hundreds of salmon to the water above the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dam. The CTC also built a fish hatchery so they can have even more salmon.
Since then, the salmon population has exploded. The importance of this to the tribe cannot be overstated, Desautel said, as it has meant the CTC has more salmon for its people meaning a healthier diet. The salmon also has cultural significance for its tribes.
The increase in salmon also means more salmon for the non-tribal fisherman downstream, and that has been recognized by Washington State’s Fish and Wildlife Department.
“We have a good working relationship with them,” Desautel said.
Desautel said the Natural Resources Department has completed quite a bit of habitat restoration to aid the Chinook salmon and the hatchery now has 2.9 million juveniles.
“The best example is when my dad fished he would catch 2-3 a week; now, they catch five to 10 in a day,” he said. “We’re very proud of our programs. The salmon are really tasty and it helps feed the tribe. Historically, 80 percent of our diet has been salmon. I’ve seen the health effects as we transition away from what we have been eating. This means less heart and diabetes problems.”
The sharp-tailed grouse is considered endangered by Washington state, so the CTC brought more sharp-tailed grouse in from British Columbia to increase their numbers. Desautel said they had sharp tailed grouse but not enough numbers to sustain them. He said some of the CTC’s tribes have dances that mimic the dance of the sharp-tailed grouse.
Desautel became director of CTC Natural Resources in 2014 after a career in forestry. He credits an agreement with Bonneville Power Administration in 2008 with supplying the funding for infrastructure and staffing to make the salmon, lynx, grouse and other wildlife reintroductions possible. The CTC’s Natural Resources Division now has about 160 workers.
Desautel said the best part of his work is knowing they are changing things in a positive way. He said they are part of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, meaning they work with tribes from Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. They also work with fish and wildlife departments from several states.
The CTC had an exchange with Nevada Fish and Wildlife where they sent them wild turkeys and received pronghorns and each place was able to increase numbers of wildlife in their respective areas.
Desautel said the most challenging part of his job is navigating the federal bureaucracy in order to bring in funding for their programs. He said a wildlife protection act pending in Congress would help significantly if it became law because it would bring money to tribal, state and federal programs for wildlife.
He said they also work at having youth involved in these programs in order to ensure the program will keep going for decades to come. He said Bonneville Power supplies funding for scholarships for students going into natural resources and for staff for technical work.
Desautel said the wildlife programs are managed for consumption so the tribe can be sustainable.
“We make sure we have enough elk, moose and fish to feed everyone,” he said. “The tribes’ culture is tied to the places. All of our tribes have creation stories and legends. As long as we are here, we have responsibilities to take care of things that take care of us.”
Desautel is concerned about the impact of climate change on wildlife. During the past several years, the reservation has had about half its reservation lost to fires. The worst fire was in 2015 and a lot of fish died at the time.
“That will happen more often in the future and it could get worse. We may not have fish in the future,” he said. “A lot could change direction of the ship and we need a lot of action.”