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Carole Lankford Goes To Washington

Tribal Council Vice Chair tells committee the importance of tribal forest management: a model for promoting healthy forests and rural jobs

By Lailani Upham

CSKT Vice Chairperson Carole Lankford testifies before the Natural Resources Committee in Washington D.C. earlier this month. The oversight hearing focused on issues and challenges facing management of tribal forests to find innovative ways for tribal governments to use limited resources to effectively manage lands and reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire. (Courtesy photo) CSKT Vice Chairperson Carole Lankford testifies before the Natural Resources Committee in Washington D.C. earlier this month. The oversight hearing focused on issues and challenges facing management of tribal forests to find innovative ways for tribal governments to use limited resources to effectively manage lands and reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON D.C. — Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Vice Chair Carole Lankford testified before a House Natural Resources Committee Oversight Hearing on “Tribal Forest Management: A Model for Promoting Healthy Forests and Rural Jobs” in Washington D.C. last Thursday, April 10.

“We are excited to have a Montana voice at the hearing,” stated Rep. Steven Daines, R-Mont.

The hearing examined the successful model of forest management used by tribes in the U.S.

According to the Natural Resource Committee, over the last two decades, federal regulations and environmental lawsuits have caused a rapid decline in timber sales in federally managed forests.

The lack of active federal forest management has destroyed tens of thousands of jobs and deprived rural counties of revenue and caused national forests to increase to devastating wildfires and invasive species, according to the NR committee.

The oversight hearing focused on the issues and challenges facing management of tribal forests and examined innovative ways tribal governments are using limited resources to effectively manage their lands and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

The panel included Michael Black, Bureau of Indian Affairs U.S. Department of the Interior Director; Phil Rigdon, Yakima Nation President of Intertribal Timber Council; Coquille Tribe Chair, Brenda Meade; CSKT Vice Chair Carole Lankford; Cody Desautel, Natural Resources Director for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; and Larry Mason, Forest Scientist for Indian Forest Management Assessment Team.

In Black’s testimony he stated that the Administration continues to emphasize three priority goals applicable to Indian forest management and they are safety in Indian communities through wildland fire suppression; the adaption of forest management activities to a changing climate, and the development of workforce in both BIA and Tribal forest management occupations.

In 1991, the Department strongly supported enactment of the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act (NIFRMA), whereby Congress declared that the U.S. has a trust responsibility toward Indian forest lands, noting that a review of federal Indian forestry investment should be conducted and compared to other land management agencies, Black stated during the testimony.

Black stated on average BIA obligates approximately $75 million per year for fire suppression, employing 7,000 employees, “Many of who are Native Americans and Alaska Natives.”

Lankford gave the run down that the Flathead Reservation is nearly 1.3 million acres and over one-third is forested. Of the 236,000 acres available for commercial harvest the Tribes harvest about 18 million board feet (MMBF) of timber annually, she stated. The remaining forests are set aside and include the first tribally designated wilderness in the U.S. and several primitive areas are reserved for cultural.

The CSKT Forest Management Plan (FMP) encompasses an ecosystem management perspective with both 30 year and 100-year goals related to forest health and restoration, Lankford shared.

“In 1985, my Tribes utilized the Indian Self Determination Act, including Tribal Self-Governance provisions and we compacted with the BIA and took over management of all natural resources on our Reservation. With the ecosystem management and more holistic approach that the Tribes took, we did have to administratively reduce the levels of harvest to level that were more sustainable and that would ensure multiple uses including protecting fisheries and wildlife.”

Lankford explained that the re-establishment of fire on the land both prescribed and wildfire for multiple objectives are major drivers of the CSKT Forest Management Plan. She added that the use of fire to establish forest structures similar to those of pre-European contact assists the tribes in developing alternatives for consideration under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning efforts.

“It is evident that our ancestors took a very active role in management of our vegetative landscape. Our forest management plan guides us in our actions of restoring fire-dependent forest ecosystems. Over the past ten years CSKT Fuels personnel have treated over 7,638 acres per year in fuels reduction treatments, including thinning, piling, pile burning, and understory burn projects. We think the rest of the country could learn much from this type of management,” she addressed to the panel.

Lankford explained that when and Indian tribe uses the Self-Determination Act to take over management and operations of any program that had been operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, one of the pressing questions tribal councils ask is if there will be sufficient funds provided via contract or compact to ensure the operation of the program is in a professional manner and will meet necessary standards and be a source of jobs and satisfaction for the people.

“While we are proud of our success we have had in managing our forests, generating income to the Tribes and creating as many jobs as we can, I must tell this Committee in the strongest terms that the funding levels we receive are so inadequate and so radically out of sync with funds received for managing similar U.S. forests that I wonder if our FMP can be sustained,” Lankford said.

Lankford shared some recent data from a publication, Third Decadal Review on their perspective and observation of the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team (IFMAT) on the lack of parity between what the Tribes receive on a per acre basis compared to what others receive for managing immediately adjacent lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service and she described it as, “Striking.”

Lankford explained that the study supported the argument the Tribes have been making for years that Congress and the Administration (Democratic or Republican) are not providing sufficient funds.

“The facts speak for themselves and the data indicates that we are routinely receiving one-third of the money per acre that our counterparts next door in the Lolo National Forest receive,” she stated. The lack leads to inadequate staff to oversee timber harvest including compliance with Federal laws, she added.

Operating understaffed and underfunded programs means corners are cut and pay for employees are less than other Federal agencies for the same work.

Lankford then addressed Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings. “If you know that is cost a certain funding level per acre to manage federal forests, how does Congress repeatedly fun us at one-third of that level? Knowing that is the nexus of the fiduciary trust relationship, how does the Department of the Interior, year after year, request only one-third of the amount that they know they are requesting for comparable lands in the National Park Service or that the Department of Agriculture is requesting for U.S. Forest Service lands?”

She added that the U.S. recently handed out billions of dollars in negotiated out of court settlements after being sued first in the Cobell case for mismanagement of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts and the resources associated with the those accounts and also mentioned the more recent case (Nez Perce v. Salazar) settlements where 40 tribes sued DOI for mismanagement of monetary assets and natural resources held in trust by the U.S. for the benefit of those tribes.

“If the U.S. knows that it takes three times the amount of money to manage adjacent U.S. forests than they are allocating to tribes, what lessons have they learned form the recent Nez Perce v. Salazar cases?” she asked.

She added that if the U.S. mismanaged lands again tribes would have no choice but to sue again.

“The IFMAT study shows that Tribes are doing a good job with the meager funds they have available from the BIA so the finger cannot be pointed at our foresters but at our trustee,” Lankford stated.

She reminded the committee that Congress directed the IFMAT study so that the data would help in informed decisions. IFMAT recommended that the BIA Forestry be increased by $100 million to achieve parity with other federal forestry programs. She urged Congress to “attack the lack of equity” by adding $25 million a year over the next four years to the BIA Forestry budget. She explained that IFMAT also recommended an increase to the BIA’s Forestry Projects by $12.7 million to initiate a Forestry Workforce Development program to assist tribes in reaching sustainable harvest of timber, to address invasive species, endangered species and cooperative landscape conservation.

“We realize you are authorizers not appropriators but recommendations coming from this committee will have some weight when the Appropriations Committee determines the allocation of funds in FY 15 and future years.”

Lankford informed the Committee on the initiative that CSKT have taken the lead among all forestry tribes in the area of Hazardous Fuels Reduction.

“In recent years the Interior Department came up with a new method of distributing its Hazardous Fuels funds, dollars that are used to thin undergrowth and take other actions intended to retard the growth of large fires and make them more manageable.”

The method was called the Hazardous Fuels Prioritization and Allocation System (HFPAS). “HFPAS was a formula so convoluted that one would need a Cray Supercomputer to figure our how money was allocated among Interior agencies,” she explained.

“We were stunned to see that, if fully implemented, we would have lost 94 percent of our hazardous fuels budget,” Lankford added.

She said when other timber tribes they saw evidence that their losses would be even higher and added that essentially the formula as proposed would have led to a massive transfer of HFPAS funds from BIA and tribes to the Bureau of Land Management.

She explained the processes in the objections of money being allocated elsewhere when the need was so great for tribes and pointing out the fact the U.S. holds a trust responsibility to Reservations and advocated support in ensuring tribes do not lose any hazardous fuels funding.

She shared with the Committee her agreement of the direction the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has given the Interior Department that they should not prioritize Hazardous Fuels Reduction funds in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). She added the Subcommittee correctly pointed out in previous years that the land operated by DOI is not in the WUI. “Encouraging wealthy Americans to build homes near national forest and parks where there are increasing chances that those homes will catch on fire is like encouraging someone to build their home in a known flood plain. It makes little sense.”

She added that the Subcommittee has been critical of previous DOI proposals where they recommended large reductions in their hazardous fuel program.

“You could not find a better example of being penny wise and pound foolish than the idea of reducing funds dedicated to lessening the likelihood of massive fire spread and instead concentrating on fighting fires once they are raging,” Lankford explained.

She added examples of CSKT Tribes effectiveness to use hazardous fuels reduction funds stating that every year from 2004 to 2010 an award was received of special recognition for outstanding efforts in meeting and exceeding hazard fuel reduction goals and in 1986 the tribes accomplished 186 percent of the target. “In 2008 we were the first tribe to exceed 10,000 acres treated in one year.”

Lankford said the Tribes support the DOI Fuels Management budget proposal to be restored to its FY 2010 budget of $206 million. “We appreciate the fact that the FY 15 proposed budget includes $10 million for tribal resource management landscape restoration for fuels and forest health and we commend the Office of Wildland Fire for acknowledging this need among tribal forest tribes.”

Lankford closed her testimony by stating, “This has become even more a challenge when the economy is bad and the call for wood products is off while at the same time we must comply with various regulations and laws. We are seeing evidence that climate change will impact our forests from bug infestations to larger fires created by drought while at the same time we must simultaneously manage for fish and wildlife that are so important to our people.”

Representative Steve Daines office stated, “We deeply appreciate CSKT Vice Chair Lankford participating in this hearing and sharing the Tribe’s successful forest management practices, as well as conveying the challenges facing the Tribe.” Daines officials stated they look forward to working with the Tribe as he fights for common sense forest management reforms and works to ensure that the tribe has the support it needs to protect the health of its forests and keeps residents of the Flathead Reservation safe.

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