Thursday, January 16, 1997

Klamath Nation fighting for treaty rights on federal forest lands

By Terri C. Hansen
News from Indian Country
Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief

CHILOQUIN, Ore. The Klamath Tribe is not satisfied with a U.S. Forest Service decision to include former Klamath reservation lands in future timber sales and recreational development plans.

The decision jeopardizes Klamath treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather due to the disastrous impact logging has had on the Tribe's traditional resources, tribal representatives say.

Tribal leaders met in October with John Lowe, administrator of 19 national forests in Oregon and Washington, to request that timber sales and development plans be suspended on former reservation lands currently managed by the Forest Service. The Klamaths requested an Environmental Impact Statement to address the impact of logging and recreational activities on their subsistence resources, which they say have dwindled due to logging practices and other intrusions on the land.

The Tribe arranged a second meeting in mid-November to negotiate an agreement regarding the protection of their treaty rights within the boundaries of their former reservation.

At that meeting, Lowe told tribal leaders the Forest Service has involved the Tribe in the planning process for the past fifteen years, but added that the Forest Service would be willing to work with the Tribe on a higher level in the future. During a press conference following the meeting, however, Lowe stated he told tribal leaders there would be no suspension of timber sales, nor would an environmental impact statement would be prepared for former reservation lands.

The Klamaths dispute Lowe's statement regarding their involvement in the planning process. The Forest Service still makes the decisions and then asks the Tribe to cooperate, the Klamath newsletter reported.

Elwood Miller, Jr., the Klamath Tribes Natural Resource Specialist, responded to Lowe's remarks in a news interview shortly after the November meeting.

"The Tribe's request to specifically have an EIS done within our treaty rights area of 1954 is because our resources are in such a diminished state," Miller said. "Forest Service activities have a direct impact on the populations of resources that we use as a tribe. Our resources, such as our sucker fish, trout, mule deer, etc., are being pushed aside for their timber commodity. In that, I don't think the Forest Service has been fair to the tribe or the resources of the forest.

"The biggest problem I see with the Forest Service is that they are an economic commodity driven on a timber base. That's how they make money."

Miller said that the Klamath Tribe has not been included in Forest Service discussions involving plans for their treaty rights areas, so the Tribe has had to come in after the fact and try to protect their subsistence rights through the appeals process. "In our opinion that is a direct violation of the government-to-government relationship," Miller said.

The Klamath Tribe was terminated in 1954 by the United States during a period of damaging government policies by the Eisenhower administration that affected tribes across the country. The Klamaths lost their land at termination, but in 1974 Kimbol vs. Callahan reaffirmed the hunting, fishing and gathering rights of the Klamath on former reservation lands.

In 1986 the Klamaths successfully regained their tribal status but no land base. They received a total of $220 million dollars from the federal government as compensation for their reservation at termination, but timber revenues totaling more than $405 million have since been paid to the federal government. During their 25 years of non-recognition they received no federal benefits, a loss to the Tribe of an estimated $112 million.

Today, as the basis of an economic self-sufficiency plan required as part of federal re-recognition, the Klamaths are seeking a return of 680,000 acres of their former reservation. The plan, while allowing some logging, calls for restoring the health of the forests within their land base.