ALTA, CA, April 13, 2022 — Placer Land Trust and the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe of the Colfax Rancheria are pleased to announce the return of land to the Tribe from whom it was unjustly taken over a century ago.
Placer Land Trust acquired 40 acres of forestland above the North Fork American River near Alta in December 2020, and this week transferred ownership to the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe. The Tribe is comprised of Nisenan, Maidu and Miwok people of the Sierra Nevada mountains and foothills of Placer County, and the Tribe considers this Alta land to be part of its ancestral homelands.
“Placer Land Trust is committed to working with willing landowners and conservation partners to protect and care for land in a way that’s inclusive and equitable, and a big part of that is working with Native American Tribes who have an extremely long and deep relationship to the land,” says Placer Land Trust Executive Director Jeff Darlington. “We can’t undo the injustices done to Tribes in the past, but we can partner with local Tribes today to facilitate their connection to land. And in this case we’re very grateful to be able to return ownership of this specific land back to the Tribe — forever.”
Owning and managing natural land in its homelands supports the Tribe’s effort to restore federal recognition, and this property’s location on Moody Ridge above Green Valley with views of the river below and the Sierra Nevada above provides a fitting place to put traditional cultural and ecological knowledge into practice and host educational activities for the Tribe and the public at large. Grinding rocks on the Preserve are a reminder that this land was a Tribal food gathering and preparation site for generations.
“For a long time, Tribes in California have lost land,” says Tribal Chairman Clyde Prout III. “Having a piece of land actually come back to the Tribe, where we can utilize our traditional cultural stewardship practices and have a place to gather – it’s huge. Now we have a place where we can keep our traditions going.”
The Preserve will now be known as “Yo’ Dok’im Pakan – Gerjuoy North Fork Preserve”. “Yo’ Dok’im Pakan means ‘North Fork Spring’ in Nisenan,” says Prout. “It’s important to speak the language of the area and pay homage to the people who were here and are still here. These lands, plants, and animals remember the Nisenan language, and this name honors the area and what the land offers.”
The Preserve is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, from large mammals such as bear, deer, bobcat, and coyote — to reptiles, amphibians, birds, and insects. It contains a mixed oak and conifer forest, a vibrant spring, small seasonal waterfall, and several large rock outcrops. The property is also a key piece within a large block of public lands and privately conserved lands along and above the North Fork American River near the Green Valley Trail.
The prior landowner, Neil Gerjuoy, delayed his plans to sell the land for development in order to work with Placer Land Trust for a conservation outcome. Placer Land Trust obtained grant funding from the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) and was able to purchase the land for its fair market value in December 2020. Both Mr. Gerjuoy and WCB are in support of this land transfer, the first of its kind in California where WCB funded an acquisition by a local land trust and approved a subsequent transfer to a local Native American Tribe.
“The Wildlife Conservation Board is proud to be part of this important project supporting collaboration between the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe and Placer Land Trust to steward the Yo’ Dok’im Pakan – Gerjuoy North Fork Preserve,” says Rebecca Fris, WCB Assistant Executive Director.
The transfer of this land does not change any of the protections that exist on the Preserve. The Preserve is now owned by the Tribe’s nonprofit Koy’o Land Conservancy; Prout is CEO, Tribal members make up its Board of Directors, and its mission is to restore traditional homelands to tribal ownership and maintain its lands through cultural practices and traditions. The Koy’o Land Conservancy will assume the obligations of the WCB grant agreement and deed restrictions that prohibit development and ensure that the Preserve is forever protected as open space.
With the financial support of Mr. Gerjuoy, Placer Land Trust was able to provide the Conservancy with a grant for ongoing stewardship of the Preserve. And the two nonprofits have agreed to continue to partner for the foreseeable future, starting with monitoring the property together for the first three years.
“We plan to learn from each other and listen to what the land has to tell us,” says Darlington. “This land donation isn’t a beginning or an end, it’s an important milestone in our ongoing work to diversify and bring more justice into land conservation. And like this Preserve, that is here to stay.”