Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A once and future forest

You could call it revolutionary. Or you could call it just getting back to normal. For the first time in a century and a half, the Coquille Indian Tribe is preparing to manage its forest land by its own rules. Under federal legislation signed in January, the tribe no longer must follow the “standards and guidelines” of federal agencies. “Now the tribe can begin to lay the foundation for forest management for generations to come,” said Darin Jarnaghan, the tribe’s natural resources director. The likely result? Increased timber production. A more flexible, sensible approach to environmental protection. Attention to a wide range of species instead of just a few. The Coquille Tribe’s ancestral stewardship lasted until the 1850s, when coastal Indians were driven from their homelands to make way for miners and settlers. The tribe was landless until Congress established the 5,400-acre Coquille Tribal Forest in 1996. Even then, the land came with a condition: The Coquilles would be “coupled” to federal management practices. Coupling turned out to be costly. Starting in the late 1990s, environmental lawsuits and regulations made logging all but impossible on federal lands. Although tribal land managers consistently outperformed federal agencies, they chafed under cumbersome federal rules. The situation festered until January 2018, when President Donald Trump signed the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. At last, the new law not only removed arbitrary federal restrictions, it also freed the tribe from lawsuits filed by environmental activists. A key difference in the new law is that the tribe won’t need a federal agency’s approval for every decision. Once Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approves the tribe’s management plan, the tribe will have broad autonomy within the plan’s boundaries. On this small segment of the tribe’s ancestral homeland, the Coquille people’s ancient partnership with nature finally can be restored...MORE

The House Report on this Act states:

Coquille tribal forestlands generate timber revenues that 
are an essential component of the Tribe's and Congress's goals 
of Coquille tribal self-governance. Reasonably consistent and 
predictable timber revenues are critical for the successful 
planning and management of Tribal programs, as well as 
providing employment for Tribal members and members of the 
local community, in both direct and indirect ways.
It further states the tribe is required to meet:

...additional burdens of complying with the standards and 
guidelines of adjacent federal lands. Essentially, adjacent 
federal land managers write most of the management 
prescriptions for the Coquille Forest.
    This statutory requirement negatively impacts the Tribe by 
reducing the land available for timber harvest from 5140 acres 
to 3401 acres. In addition, the linkage to other federal 
forestlands has invited repeated appeals and litigation against 
the Department of the Interior in attempts to block or severely 
restrict timber management on tribal forestlands. The delays 
and costs of these efforts adversely affect the Tribe.
    The problem is further compounded by the current revision 
of the management plan for federal lands adjacent to the 
Coquille Forest. If the Bureau of Land Management changes the 
management scheme for those adjacent lands, it could result in 
greater management restrictions on Coquille Forest lands.
The problems and negative impacts alluded to are repeated across all federal lands in the West. Perhaps the model provided by this legislation could be used to transfer the management of federal lands to local government. An MOA is signed with the state, a management plan approved by the feds is prepared, and then the state or local government assumes management responsibility subject to the terms of the management plan. This approach or something similar, would be far preferable, and bring more efficiency and reasonableness to the management of federal lands than any reorganization based on ecosystems. 

What happens in the Coquille Forest should stay in the Coquille Forest should not apply here. Just the opposite should occur.

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