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Klamath Tribes outline goals for forest management
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

As part of a long-running quest to regain their homelands, the Klamath Tribes of Oregon on Tuesday unveiled a major plan aimed at reclaiming and restoring a forest that once belonged to them.

In 1954, the federal government terminated the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes. They lost a 1.2-million-acre reservation, whose fish, game and timber formed the basis of their economy. Without these natural resources, tribal members saw their livelihoods disappear within years.

The tribes began to reverse course in 1986, when recognition was restored by an act of Congress. But their reservation, which had been parceled out to public and private interests, was never restored.

Now, after lengthy studies, the tribes are ready to take back some of their homeland and sustain it for future generations. The new management plan paves the way for self-sufficiency, Klamath chairman Allan Foreman said.

"We hope this plan will help us restore and maintain healthy forestlands for future benefit of the tribes, the environment and all who live in and visit the Klamath River Basin," he said. "Everyone can agree restoration must take place."

The Klamath proposal was authored by two prominent forest scientists who helped draft a major management plan for several national forests in the West. Based on historical research and contemporary scientific knowledge, it seeks to correct decades of environmental damage on 690,000 acres of land that is now part of the Fremont and Winema national forests.

The tribes are negotiating with the Bush administration for the return of that acreage. The plan, which underwent peer scientific review, presents a comprehensive look at how the tribes would manage the former reservation once it is returned.

A key component is to make the forest look like it did prior to termination. The plan identifies a combination of several actions -- including limited commercial logging of trees that contribute to wildfires, protection of roadless areas and restoration of deer and other fish and wildlife -- to achieve the "complex forest ecosystem" that existed before 1954.

Another goal is to ensure continued public access to the forest. All decisions the tribes make affecting the land will be subject to a tribal public comment and administrative process.

In addition, the tribes have agreed to a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, in tribal court, for those who wish to challenge their decisions. Appeals will be allowed through the federal district court in Oregon and through the Department of Interior's administrative process.

According to Foreman, it will take $4 million to $5 million to get the proposal off the ground. He says part of this money, as well as costs for implementation, could come from the $22-24 million annual budget of the Fremont and Winema forests.

The tribes are taking public comment on the plan through January 30, 2004, but face a number of obstacles in gaining acceptance. Some conservation groups don't want to see the tribes take control of national forest land. Foreman has rejected their alternative proposals as unacceptable.

There is also resistance from local landowners and farmers whose protests forced the Bush administration to reverse a decision that favored the Klamath Tribes and two tribes just across the border in California. The Klamath Tribes' water rights have been affirmed by the federal courts but have yet to be quantified.

The three-part management plan will be posted on the Klamath Tribes' website. The tribes distributed copies of the document to members of the media yesterday.

Relevant Links:
Resource Allocation in the Klamath Basin: An Assessment of Natural Resource, Economic, Social, and Institutional Issues - http://eesc.orst.edu/klamath
Klamath Tribes - http://www.klamathtribes.org
Klamath Basin in Crisis - http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org

Related Stories:
Klamath Tribes address land restoration proposal (11/12)
Klamath Tribes reject proposal to restore land base (10/15)
DOI to probe White House interference on Klamath (09/08)
McCaleb: White House had 'chilling effect' on BIA (07/30)
Tribal bias charged in Klamath dispute (3/14)

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