Working Together: American Indian Tribes and the Forest Service improving Forest Service policy, programs and projects through consultation.

Why We Consult

As an agency of the USDA, the Forest Service (FS) is charged with the mission of managing 191 million acres of lands throughout the United States. The FS also provides financial and technical assistance to forest landowners, conducts forest-related research, and participates in international activities regarding global forest issues sustainable forest management. An important consideration in the fulfillment of these responsibilities is the trust relationship the FS has with American Indians and Alaska Natives (Tribes) and the potential impact of FS policy, program and project decisions. National Forests, and other firsthand by the FS, may have important historical,spiritual and cultural significance for Tribes.

Forests often serve as a source of traditional medicines, food, firewood, and basketry materials. Certain areas may also be particularly sacred and valued for their importance in sustaining cultural traditions and beliefs.

The FS may conduct or authorize various types of activities that have a substantial impact on Tribes. These include land management planning, grant programs, timber sales, mining, road building,recreational development and use, archaeological excavations, energy development, and other policy,program and project activities.

Consultation Responsibilities Based in Law and Executive Order

Several laws require that the Forest Service (FS) consult with Tribes. Executive Order 13175 requires the establishment of consultation process that gives tribal governments the opportunity to provide information and recommendations on matters that may affect them. If it is not clear to a FS line officer whether a decision may have an impact, Tribes should be consulted regarding their views.

Consultation Objectives

Tribes have a unique legal and political relationship with federal agencies including the FS. Consultation, on a government-to-government basis, provides ways in which the FS and Tribes can work together. The objectives of consultation are to ensure that:

  • FS programs and activities respect tribal self-government and sovereignty;
  • FS officials collaborate and consult with Tribes regarding the formation and implementation of policies that may affect tribal rights and interests;
  • Effective government-to-government working relationships achieve ecosystem health and other common goals.

Who Has the Responsibility?

It is the responsibility of those line officers who make FS decisions to ensure that the rights and interests of Tribes are represented in the decision-making process. Line officers are also responsible for making sure that consultation is conducted with Tribes on decisions at the national, regional, area, station,forest and district levels. Working with tribal officials, FS representatives can develop a mutually acceptable consultation strategy for a particular decision, especially in cases involving complex issues and significant policy.

Laying the Groundwork for Effective Consultation

Specific decision can facilitate more effective results. Working with tribal officials,FS line officers should develop mutually acceptable protocols for consulting on decisions that may affect Tribes. The procedures for consultation can then be established and well understood in advance.The FS and Tribes can also exchange contact information regarding officials and staff responsible for various aspects of the decision-making.


While there is no legal requirement, the FS can compensate Tribes or tribal representatives for unusual costs or specialized expertise. In some circumstances, travel expenses may be authorized. Documentation, surveys and reports provided by Tribes at the request of the FS may also be supported through various means, including contracts, purchase orders and grants.

Dispute Resolution

Collaboration and support of its decisions are important FS values. To resolve a dispute between the FS and Tribes regarding a decision, the agency, with the agreement of the Tribe, may have a neutral third party facilitate consultation before or after a decision is made. Third party involvement, however,does not replace the right to appeal an agency decision through the FS administrative appeal process.


Sometimes an emergency requires the FS to take immediate action before meaningful consultation is possible. However, if the actions taken may have a substantial effect on a Tribe, FS officials must consult as soon as possible.

Steps to Effective Consultation

Consultation and coordination requirements are summarized in FS Manual 1563.11, Exhibit 01. Some important principles are:

  • Tribes should be consulted as early as possible in the development of policies, plans and actions that may have tribal implications. The FS should contact elected officials or designated representatives of the tribal government to discuss a particular issue or opportunity. If possible, this should be done prior to “scoping” and general public involvement. Tribesman request that FS technical specialists meet with tribal technical experts, or the tribal leadership may request a meeting with FS line officers.
  • Preliminary discussion of why the proposed policy or action is of concern to the Tribe and why the FS is pursuing the proposal can be helpful, enabling participants to prepare informed responses and recommendations.
  • After consultation, the FS should give full consideration to tribal concerns and recommendations on a particular issue or opportunity. Tribes should then be informed on how their input was considered in the final decision.
  • The decision should be documented, including the results of the consultation, and the final decision communicated to the Tribe. The consultation efforts of a FS unit should be evaluated periodically for their effectiveness, and this information should be included in appropriate program management reviews.

Working Together the Forest Service welcomes tribal participation to manage areas and resources of cultural importance. We encourage Tribes to contact us, express your interests and concerns and participate in the management of FS programs and National Forests. If you have a question or concern, please contact the agency office nearest to you. For more detailed information on the consultation process, please visit our web site: or call 707-562-8919 (TDD 707-562-9240).