19 Jan 2010, 3:19pm
Saving Forests
by admin

Indian Forestry: Imagine the Possibilities

Note: the following essay was first posted at Evergreen Magazine Online [here]. For more on Indian Forestry see special issues of Evergreen Magazine: “Forestry in Indian Country - Progress and Promise” was published in June 1998 [here] and “Forestry in Indian Country - Models of Sustainability for our National Forests” was published in the winter of 2005-2006 [here].

Evergreen Foundation managing director, Jim Petersen, has also twice spoken publicly in support of Indian forestry: “Is it Time to Give our Federal Forests Back to the Indians,” in June of 2007 [here] and “Gifford Pinchot is Rolling Over in His Grave,” in March 2008 [here]

About the authors: Jim Erickson was associated with the Colville Reservation’s tribal forestry program for 25 years and served as its director for several years before starting his own consulting business. Gary Morishima has been a technical advisor to the Quinault Nation for more than 30 years. He holds a Ph.D. in Quantitative Science and Environmental Management and is a expert in computer simulation modeling.

Indian Forestry: Imagine the Possibilities

by Jim Erickson and Gary Morishima, Evergreen Magazine, 2010-01-14 [here]

What do you really know about Indian forestry and the long tradition of resource management? Contrary to the beliefs of some, the landscape that Columbus encountered when he glimpsed the Americas was not a vast wilderness untouched by the hand of man. The park-like forests of Ponderosa Pine, the grasslands, prairies and savannas, and groves of acorns and date palms were all produced by the stewardship of the tribes that had lived on the land for thousands of years. Tribes did not just gather the fruits of the land, they managed the resources relying on lessons learned over the generations and passed on through practice, tradition, and stories of people, places, and events.

Indian forests are found in many diverse ecotypes, from the black spruce forests of Alaska, to coastal rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, to the Ponderosa Pine forests and woodlands of the intermountain region, to the hardwoods of the lake states. Like our forests, our cultures and traditions are diverse, developed over generations of relying on the gifts of the land to meet daily needs for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter. We survived on this land for millennia by relying on the wisdom, knowledge, and native science gleaned from years of observation, experience, and interpretation. Our strength lies in our differences, our resilience, our adaptability, and in our capacity to live within limits sustainable by available resources. While we depend heavily on commodity production from our forests, like state forests, Indian forests are managed for multiple purposes, providing timber, firewood, foods, medicines, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and sacred places where we worship and find spiritual renewal.

We respect our resources by managing them. We understand that we cannot fulfill our stewardship obligations if we abandon our resources to neglect or allow ourselves to become paralyzed by inaction or stalemate. We live with the consequences of our decisions every day in innumerable and unimaginable ways. And we understand that our duty for resource stewardship extends beyond today to the generations yet unborn.

In many respects, Indian people and their forests are one. Our relationships with our land and our resources define us as people. Our lifeways are sustained by our utmost respect for nature, the earth, and future generations. What we do, how we do it, and why we do it are inseparable parts of our spiritual and cultural identity.

It is important to understand that Indian forestland is neither private nor public-it’s land that is held in trust by the United States for the beneficial use of Indian tribes and individual Indians. The United States has a fiduciary trust responsibility to ensure that Indian forests are managed sustainably with the highest degree of care, diligence, and skill at its command. Indian forest management is guided by Federal statute, most principally the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act, and volumes of federal regulations and manuals.

Because Indian forestlands are neither public nor private, this uniqueness within the American political system of governance, while presenting challenges, also enables us to do things that others can’t. While the federal nexus provided by the involvement of the BIA and federal appropriations subject us to laws like NEPA and the ESA, we can act quickly and decisively when needs arise because we serve a tribal, not the general public.

While the tribal influence on the condition of our nation’s natural resources diminished over the last five hundred years, we’re still here and we’re still managing. Since the mid 1970’s, Indian tribes have played an expanding role in management of natural resources under legislation promoting Self-Determination and Executive Branch policies that recognize and support government-to-government relations between Indian tribes and the United States. As sovereign governments, Indian tribes have the authority to make and enforce laws, administer justice, manage natural resources both on and off our reservation homelands, and exercise reserved rights to hunt, fish, trap, and gather on open and unclaimed lands.

Our presence on the landscape of natural resource management is becoming more keenly felt, not only on tribal forests or because of our federally reserved rights, but also on federal, state, and private lands. These days, management of natural resources like timber, water, fish, and wildlife are too often marked by yawning chasms that so often seem to arise during confrontations between industry, conservation groups, and government agencies. We have learned that tribal involvement can help various interests to recognize differences, but work together in common purpose. Our love for the land, strong stewardship ethic, and understanding of the need to actively manage natural resources to maintain their health and productivity seems to enable us to help others to overcome hard-line positions that stand in the way of cooperative resolution to difficult problems. No one has proven to be better suited to build partnerships for natural resource management at the landscape scale than Indian tribes. In fact, one of the basic tenets of the ITC is that good partners are essential to good forest management.

Indian forests are places to find innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, and inspiration in forestry. Two independent assessments by a panel of nationally-recognized forestry experts concluded that Indian forests could serve as examples of sustainable forestry for the rest of the country, despite the fact that Indian forests receive only a fraction of the per acre federal appropriation levels provided to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Today, many Indian tribes operate sophisticated natural resource management programs and operate forest products manufacturing enterprises to provide income and employment for their members.

These are tough times for everyone in the forestry business. The subprime lending fiasco has precipitated a financial crisis that has depressed housing and timber markets while increasing uncertainty and decreasing confidence in investment circles. Forest products manufacturing infrastructure is disappearing. Income to support industry and employment, provide governmental services, and manage our forests is being reduced. Administrative and regulatory requirements are reducing management flexibility and increasing costs. Climate change is impacting forest ecosystems and drastically altering the political environment for management. Legal and administrative challenges, loss of critical expertise, and budgets consumed by escalating costs of wildland fire are eroding the capacity to manage federal forests and creating conditions that threaten the health of neighboring tribal, state, and private lands.

It would be all too easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed in the face of these daunting challenges. But foresters are tough. So are tribes. For millennia, tribes have learned to confront challenges and survive by adapting their management practices and crafting political relationships with neighboring communities.

Indian tribes, federal and state agencies, and private forest land owners have long been neighbors. The time has come for us to move to the next step, to become partners, working together to craft a strategy that leads to a better future for forestry and the natural resources that comprise our common heritage.

We in forestry and the forest products industry make up such a small component of our nation’s population that our ability to substantively contribute to national goals for creating green jobs, reinvigorating rural economies, ensuring clean air and water, protecting habitats for fish and wildlife, reducing green house gas accumulations, and increasing energy security can be easily overlooked. By working together, we can amplify our individual efforts to substantively influence the development of national, regional, tribal, and state policies and programs that affect management of forests and woodlands. Each of us cannot help but suffer from the “egocentric predicament”, that is, we are influenced by our own personal values and experiences. To move forward, we cannot afford to limit our vision to the past or suffer from stovepipe mentality that prevents us from “seeing the forest for the trees.” We need to take a broader view beyond the trials and limitations of our daily lives to see what can be accomplished if we work in common purpose. Imagine the possibilities.



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