RONAN — Managing forests with fire has long been practiced by many aboriginal tribal people pre-contact and after. And relatively recently, it has been acknowledged by the U.S. Forest Service as a viable way to manage forests.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fuels Program began using been using fire since 2003 along with other established ways to manage Flathead Reservation forests.
Since 2015, the Fuels Program has been working with Montana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, and the Lolo National Forest in off-reservation forest management using fire as a management tool under the auspices of the Reserved Treaty Rights Land Plan (RTRL). The Fuels Program has also been working with the National Bison Range on the reservation. And recently one of their own was acknowledged for his role in forest management on and off the Flathead Reservation.
Fuels Program Manager Darrell Clairmont, of the CSKT Fuel Program, was recognized at the 41st annual American Indian Timber Symposium, with the Earle R. Wilcox Award.
In particular, the Wilcox Award acknowledged Clairmont’s management role in the fire treatment of 15,607 acres that included 8,588 acres off the Flathead Reservation in the historical homelands of the CSKT.
“The Wilcox Award says a lot about Darrell’s work ethic, his dedication to our mission and the quality of the people he works with,” said Ron Swaney, Fire Management Officer, CSKT Division of Fire. “I am really happy for him and proud of the success of our (CSKT Division of Fire) program. I think we are the best in the nation.”
The Intertribal Timber Council stated in its awarding of the Earle R. Wilcox Award to Clairmont: “The interagency collaboration required to complete the work and the sheer volume of the work itself are remarkable achievements that the CSKT Fuels Program and its Director can be proud of.”
Swaney said the RTRL not only establishes partnerships with off-reservation forest and land managers, it also provides for more employment opportunities through the Fuels Program.
“We have a very good working relationships with our on- and off-reservation partners that began and the National Bison Range and Lolo Forest in 2015,” Swaney said. “We’ve built up our relationships since 2015 and work with them in the planning of the off- and on- reservation projects.”
“The reintroduction of fuels to manage the forest landscape is very significant to the area tribes,” Clairmont said prior to the award, adding that a 10- to 20-person fire crew would be working on the forest development projects. “We are currently working on three projects and there is importance of tribal input on the non-tribal lands.”
The off-reservation fuel managed acreage was the result Department of Interior administrative memorandum with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that acknowledges ancestral tribal treaty rights in non-trust and non-reservation land that is of critical importance to American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout the United States. It includes fuels management funding for the purpose of treating and restoring tribal landscapes within and adjacent to reserved treaty right lands.
The justification for the Wildland Fire Management Budget acknowledges that treaties with American Indian tribes establish a unique set of rights, benefits, and conditions for Tribes. Like other treaty obligations of the United States, Indian treaties are considered to be “the supreme law of the land,” and are the foundation upon which Federal Indian law and Federal Indian trust relationship are based.
Within the various processes utilized to establish Tribal Nations relationships with the federal government includes retention of ancestral rights remains a common recognized connection. Some examples — but are not limited to — include religious and cultural use, hunting, fishing and gathering. For many Tribes, the Reserved Rights areas fall under the management of other Federal and State agencies and in some cases, Tribes share co-management rights with Federal agencies.
Through the RTRL, the relationships with the BLM, The Nature Conservancy and the US Forest Service Lolo Forest and the NBR were codified and established.
“We are working with Tribes doing projects using the exact same prescriptions to restore lower evaluation units with frequent prescribed fires,” said Michael Alberton of the BLM in a previous discussion on the RTRL. “These types of important relationships would never have been built without RTRL.”