WASHINGTON, DC—The 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, stretching from Montana, through the Idaho Panhandle and across Washington to the Pacific Ocean, spans seven national forests. Therefore, it makes sense that the USDA Forest Service is the lead agency responsible for trail administration. Yet the agency cannot do all the work alone, which is why, in June, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Forest Service signed a memorandum of understanding to establish government-to-government consultation and coordination.
Gary Aitken Jr., tribe chairman, and regional foresters Glenn Casamassa, Pacific Northwest Region, and Leanne Marten, Northern Region, signed the memorandum at a ceremony at tribal headquarters in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
The trail was designated by Congress as a national scenic trail in 2009. It spans seven national forests—including the two Forest Service regions—as well as three national parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, state lands, rural communities and the aboriginal territories of multiple tribes, including the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.
The tribe has treaty, religious and cultural rights, and resources on the national forests in Ktunaxa (Kootenai) Territory. Chairman Aitken said, “The best method of ensuring protection and enhancement of those rights and resources is through our governments working together to steward the resources for the betterment of Ktunaxa and non-Ktunaxa citizens and honor the KTOI Covenant with the Creator to guard and keep the land.”
National scenic trails are long-distance non-motorized trails that provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential as well as the conservation and enjoyment of the scenic, historic, natural and cultural resources. Managing the trail across many landscapes and jurisdictions can be a challenge, but building a relationship that includes frequent communication and coordination for portions of the trail that impact Ktunaxa Territory felt like a natural extension of the good faith relationship established on shared conservation values.
“The Kootenai Tribe offers the best available science, an historical viewpoint of the landscape, traditional ecological knowledge and a willingness to share that information and knowledge,” said the tribe’s administrative director, Rhonda Vogl.
The tribe’s attorney general, William Barquin, said that, through the memorandum, “KTOI and the USFS hope that the positive, effective relationship it has built together will not only protect the national forests in Ktunaxa Territory, but can also be an example of the power of working collaboratively on issues of common concern.”