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Bill introduced to allow tribes to thin federal forests
Friday, February 27, 2004

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced a bill on Thursday that seeks to protect tribal lands from wildfires.

The Tribal Forest Protection Act is sponsored by Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (R-Calif.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). In the House, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is the sponsor.

The bill would authorize the federal government to enter into contracts with tribes whose reservations are adjacent to federal land. The tribes would receive money for thinning federal forests, or they could keep the timber.

"The Healthy Forests Restoration Act focused needed attention and assistance on serious problems concerning forest health, particularly the explosive build-up of hazardous fuels in federal forests," said Pombo "We emphasized community participation and protection in that bill, and that is exactly what we are doing for tribes in this new legislation."

Last summer, at least 18 reservations nationwide were hit by fire from adjacent federal public forest lands. In southern California, 11 reservations were burned.

"Like all Americans, many Native American tribes are concerned about the risk of catastrophic forest fires spreading from nearby federal lands onto their own lands," said Domenici.

"This bill gives Native American tribes the chance to defend themselves and their ancestral lands from catastrophic fires by involving them in brush-clearing projects on federal lands near their reservations," added Feinstein.

The bill would amend existing laws in the following ways:
* Sets up a process for the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to enter into Stewardship contracts with the tribes for fuel reduction purposes.
* If a tribe requests a stewardship project on federal lands near its reservation, the agencies are encouraged to respond within specific time-frames and suggest remedies for any agency concerns with the tribe's proposal.
* In determining the recipients of the contracts, the agencies are encouraged to consider such factors as tribal treaty rights or cultural and historical affiliation to the land involved.
The provisions had been included as part of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003. But they were dropped by Senate and House leaders.

Support for the bill has come from the Intertribal Timber Council, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, the Tule River Tribe of California, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians of California, the Mescalero Apache Nation of New Mexico and the Jicarilla Apache Nation of New Mexico.

Related Stories:
Norton touts tribal participation in forest initiative (02/09)
Norton distributing wildlife grants to tribes (01/27)
Bark beetle poses problem for tribal forests (05/21)

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