Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

by Western Rivers Conservancy
Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

Project Report | Feb 12, 2024
Western Rivers Conservancy: Winter 2024 Report

By Anne Tattam | Associate Director of Foundation Relations

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy has:

• Preserved history, habitat and public access on Oregon’s wild and scenic John Day River

• Partnered with the Colville Tribes to Save Okanogan Steelhead on Washington’s Antoine Creek

Oregon’s John Day River:

In the summer of 2023, Western Rivers Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management permanently conserved McDonald’s Ferry Ranch, protecting 3.2 miles of the Wild and Scenic John Day River and 4,054 acres of sagebrush and grassland habitat. And we placed the lowest boating takeout on the river into public hands forever.

The John Day is one of the West’s great rivers, home to the Columbia Basin’s healthiest run of wild summer steelhead and one of its most important runs of spring Chinook. It is also a major destination for hikers, anglers, boaters and hunters seeking the solace of a wild desert canyon.

WRC purchased McDonald’s Ferry Ranch in 2020 and held the property for three years while working to secure funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In August 2023, we successfully conveyed the property to the BLM, conserving a broad expanse of Oregon’s sagebrush country and creating new recreational access along this stretch of river in perpetuity.

The ranch provides important winter range for large mammals like California bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk and mule deer. It also supports diverse bird life, with habitat for burrowing owl and ferruginous hawk, and ample nesting opportunities for bald eagle, golden eagle and peregrine falcon.

Approximately 2.6 miles of Grass Valley Canyon Creek flows through McDonald’s Ferry Ranch. The creek was historically a productive spawning tributary for steelhead, but its lower channel was moved to make way for agriculture decades ago, impacting fish habitat and limiting fish passage. Conserving the property creates the potential for future restoration and reconnection of the creek with the river.

From a recreational perspective, the project is a major win. Below McDonald’s Ferry, the John Day enters private land and later cascades over the un-runnable Tumwater Falls. Securing permanent public access to the boating take-out on the ranch guarantees people can float the lowest ten miles that are viably runnable on the John Day. The property also provides hikers and anglers with three miles of riverbank access, steelhead and non-native bass fishing and spectacular views of the rolling hills that form the lower John Day River canyon.

The ranch is also important historically. For a time, McDonald’s Ferry was the only crossing on the John Day River for settlers moving west on the Oregon Trail, and wagon ruts are still visible on the property.

This is the fifth property that WRC has conserved on the John Day, bringing our total conserved to 31 miles of the mainstem, 14 miles of cold-water steelhead tributaries and nearly 43,000 acres of the West’s fragile sagebrush-steppe.

Washington’s Antoine Creek:

Western Rivers Conservancy has successfully completed a game-changing project on Antoine Creek, a critical spawning stream for Threatened summer steelhead that flows through the ancestral homelands of the Colville Tribes. The Okanogan River is a major tributary of the Upper Columbia River, and the salmon and steelhead that are born in its tributaries navigate a 500-mile journey, including nine Columbia mainstem dams, to reach the Pacific. Then they do it again— upstream—to return home to spawn in streams like Antoine Creek.

WRC and the Colville Tribes have now permanently conserved the entire 2,524-acre Antoine Valley Ranch, which spans 2.5 miles of Antoine Creek. WRC purchased the ranch in 2020 and transferred half of it to the Colville Tribes that year with funding from the Washington Department of Ecology’s Streamflow Restoration Program. WRC held the second half of the property while working to secure additional funding from the program to permanently protect the remainder of the ranch. In September 2023, WRC successfully transferred the second half of the ranch to the Colville Tribes. At the same time, we conveyed the ranch’s water rights to the Department of Ecology with the help of Trout Unlimited. The water will now be managed in partnership with the Colville Tribes using another innovative approach to putting water in-stream when fish critically need it.

The key to restoring stream-flows to Antoine Creek is—paradoxically—an earthen dam high in the system and controlled by the ranch. The dam sits upstream of natural barriers to fish, so the Colville Tribes can now manage it as a tool to deliver more water for steelhead without blocking their migration. By leaving the dam in place, it can be used to strategically pulse cold flows downstream when fish need it most.

Under Colville ownership this innovative strategy can increase flows up to 90 percent in Antoine Creek, calibrated to match seasonal needs of the steelhead that spawn there. Importantly, the flow improvements in Antoine Creek will continue downstream into the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers.

In the coming years, the Colville Tribes also plan to conduct extensive in-stream, riparian and upland restoration, benefiting the full range of species found on the ranch. But the project’s greatest impact is returning water to Antoine Creek, which for decades has run too low and warm for steelhead to survive and spawn.

The Antoine Creek project should pay huge dividends to the lands, waters and tribal culture of the Okanogan River Valley and beyond for generations. WRC and the Colville Tribe’s innovative and even unconventional solution—using a dam designed to take water out of the creek as a tool for putting water back into it—confirms our belief that creativity, perseverance and great partners like the Colville Tribes can deliver real, lasting results for fish and wildlife.


The John Day and Antoine Creek projects are just some of our recent projects. WRC currently has over 25 active projects in seven states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or for further information. Thank you.

Attachments: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Oct 16, 2023
Western Rivers Conservancy: Fall 2023 Report

By Anne Tattam | Associate Director of Foundation Relations

Jun 19, 2023
Western Rivers Conservancy: Summer 2023 Report

By Anne Tattam | Associate Director of Foundation Relations

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Organization Information

Western Rivers Conservancy

Project Leader:
Anne Tattam
Administrative and Development Associate
Portland , OR United States

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