Tribes Build Sustainable Future With Few Resources

Successes in Native American forestry, despite huge financial challenges, are proving a model for future stewardship, according to the Indian Forestry Management Assessment Team (IFMAT).

“The tribes have been here for thousands of years,” says George Smith, executive director of Oregon’s Coquille Tribe. “They have a direct connection to the land and the long-term consequences of its management.”

That may be why the coastal Coquille Nation and Warm Springs tribe of central Oregon, which have the largest tribal timber holdings in the state, say they are proud of a 10-year study of their land use by IFMAT.

The third such report, drafted for 20 tribes nationwide, shows Indian forestry needs another $100 million of annual federal funding to be adequately maintained. A decade ago that was only $40 million. The widening gap violates the federal government’s trust obligation to tribal lands under the Tribal Forest Protection Act. “The issue needs to be directed to the House Appropriations Committee,” says Smith, a former Bureau of Indian Affairs staffer in Washington, D.C.

“The level of congressional interest in this report is greater than it’s ever been,” Smith adds. Yet until that mountain is moved, foresters will have to stay creative to keep their operations and communities viable. When timber prices took a dive in 2009, tribes sought non-recurring grants and redirected general funds to forestry. Additionally, the tribes say they relied on holistic, consensus-based solutions.

Oregon’s tribes will adopt a program piloted by Washington’s Yakama tribe, the “anchor forest concept,” which promotes collaboration between neighboring land users in infrastructure and ecosystem functions. The IFMAT report praises this initiative and also highlights the relationship between foresters and biologists.

“We tend to focus a lot on the forest’s health instead of focusing mostly on harvesting the high-quality timber,” says Orvie Danzuka, ITC delegate for Warms Springs. “We try to take a vast approach to it.” For him, that meant shifting funds from operations on the edges of housing subdivisions to deep into the forest where wildfire prevention takes priority. Also as the tribe’s Education Committee chair, Danzuka has focused on classes for up-and-coming foresters about blight and infestation.

Through the ITC’s detailed, outcome-driven environmental monitoring program, Coquille Tribe Environmental Director Jason Robison says he wants to show that “Not only are we meeting our ecological goals, we’re also meeting our socioeconomic and cultural objectives.”

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