Conserving 2,600 Acres of the Blue Mountains

By Linda Herbert, Board President

March 28 was a momentous day.  At long last, Blue Mt. Land Trust and Mark Tipperman and Lorna Williams signed papers finalizing the easement agreement on their McCoy Meadows Ranch near Starkey, Oregon.  This beautiful acreage of Ponderosa pines and grassland is at about 3,500 feet elevation in the Blue Mountains, with McCoy Creek running through it.  McCoy Meadows is thought to be the location where the largest tribal summer encampments in the region were held. 

Mark and Lorna moved to the area in 1990, seeking relief from the traffic and urban sprawl of Snohomish County.  Their original plan was to run cattle, but they realized their bigger goal with the property was to return it back to its natural state.  Thus began a long term collaboration with government agencies and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla (CTUIR) for riparian restoration along McCoy Creek.  It’s truly remarkable to look at an aerial photograph of the property and see the traces of the previously straight creek channel, now replaced by miles of fish-friendly meandering streams.    

Ten years later, the Tippermans  chose to relocate to New Brunswick, and making trips back to the Blues to “fight weeds” became tiresome.  They eventually made the decision to donate the property to the CTUIR and asked BMLT to hold a conservation easement on McCoy Meadows Ranch. 

Immediately following the signing of the easement, Tim Copeland, Executive Director of BMLT, Jason Bulay, Conservation Director of the Northern Unit, and Linda Herbert, Chair of the Board, attended the signing ceremony for the gift to the Umatilla tribes of the deed to McCoy Meadows Ranch, held at the Nixyáawii (pronounced Nixy ah ah wee which means aspen grove) Governance Center in Mission, Oregon.  Chief Gary Burke of the Cayuse, Chair of CTUIR Board of Trustees, officiated the occasion in his full chief regalia, and Armand Minthorn, spiritual leader of the tribes, led the Invocation.

It was very apparent in the remarks made by both the tribal leaders and the Tippermans that this gift is monumental for all.  Mark and Lorna believe there is no one who would take better care of the land than the tribes, with whom they had become friends during the many years of restoration projects.   They and the Umatilla tribes share the same values of land stewardship, and the tribes are grateful for the opportunity to move back onto land of great historical significance to them.  Chairman Burke used a Walla Walla word meaning ‘raising self up’ and says that this gift will be of great help to his people.

Following the signing of the deed gifting, the Tippermans were presented with beautiful beaded medallion necklaces,  and  Pendleton blankets were wrapped around their shoulders.  The Nixyáawii drummers, which included all ages, sang the Honor Song while beating the pow wow drum.  Their joined voices resonated richly in the two-story rotunda, and the deep booming cadence of the drum electrified the room.  Chairman Burke led the Tippermans and other tribal leaders ceremoniously around the room to the music, and the significance of the shared dance was profoundly touching. 

During the closing remarks, Lorna told the gathering that she had always said she would know that the restoration project was a success when she saw sand hill cranes living on the property again.  “Well,” she said, “there are now four nests.”

Chairman Burke’s parting words to the Tippermans were “You believe in what we believe:  if you take care of the land, the land will take of us, and we can live off the land.”

The McCoy Meadows Ranch easement brings our total acreage conserved to 6500 acres, with fifteen easements.