USDA Forest Service signs 11 new agreements to advance tribal co-stewardship of national forests
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is announcing that it has signed 11 co-stewardship agreements with thirteen tribes as part the agency’s commitment to protect tribal interests in the lands they value as part of their culture and history. These agreements come in response to Joint Secretarial Order 3403, which directs agencies under the USDA and the Department of the Interior to ensure their decisions and activities on public lands fulfill the unique trust obligation with federally recognized Tribes and their citizens.
In addition to the 11 co-stewardship agreements being announced today, there are 60 more in various stages of review involving 45 Tribes.
Federally recognized Tribes are sovereign nations with long-standing government-to-government relationships with the federal government. Tribal co-stewardship agreements like those being announced promote an approach to managing national forests and grasslands that seeks to protect the treaty, religious, subsistence and cultural interests of federally recognized Indian Tribes. The agreements reflect a wide array of tribal interests and include caring for forest and watershed health, restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, integrating traditional knowledge into land management decision-making, and protecting cultural resources, treaty rights, wildlife habitat, food sovereignty and ceremonial and traditional activities.
“These agreements demonstrate our commitment to working together with Federally recognized Tribes,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “We are at a unique moment in time where we can make a positive difference in the relationships between the federal government and Tribal Nations across the country. We do this by building trust and demonstrating our commitment to uphold our trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian Tribes with concrete actions. We’ve made a lot of good progress already, and we will continue to embed this commitment within our agency and organizational culture.”
The Forest Service is entrusted with managing more than 193 million acres of land and waters that are the traditional territory previously managed by Tribes for thousands of years. These lands are home to sacred religious and burial sites, wildlife, and other sources of indigenous foods and medicines. Much of these lands are in areas where Tribes have reserved rights to hunt, fish, gather and practice their traditional ceremonies based on ratified treaties and agreements with the federal government.
The 11 signed co-stewardship agreements represent a snapshot of the co-stewardship commitments of the USDA, including:
- Bears Ears National Monument (five Tribes, one agreement): USDA and the Department of the Interior signed a landmark joint Intergovernmental Cooperative Agreement between the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and the five member Tribes of the Bears Ears Commission: Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni. The agreement seeks coordination on land use planning and implementation, development of long-term resource management and programmatic goals, collaborative and robust outreach to Tribal Nations, and more effective mechanisms for Tribal government coordination.
- Tongass National Forest: The Tongass National Forest signed three separate co-stewardship agreements that include sharing traditional ecological knowledge, enabling workforce development and protecting culturally significant places. The co-stewardship agreements are with:
- The Hoonah Indian Association for forest thinning work that contributes to the long-standing Hoonah Native Forest Partnership.
- The Organized Village of Kake for youth stewardship projects that protect burial sites while providing training and leadership development.
- The Organized Village of Kasaan for a framework to sustain culturally critical resources and forest products.
- Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest: The Nez Perce Tribe and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho continued their long-standing collaboration in fiscal year 2022 with a Master Participating Agreement for stream and floodplain restoration, and the continuation of historic and prehistoric interpretation. The Tribe is leading this stream habitat restoration in the Crooked River Valley to protect steelhead and Chinook salmon.
- Sequoia National Forest: The Tule River Tribe and the Sequoia National Forest in California developed a co-stewardship memorandum of understanding to establish a framework to better protect ceremonial and traditional activities, food sovereignty, and to preserve and integrate traditional knowledge into Forest Service land management decisions. The agreement provides an opportunity to learn from the Tribe and understand their thousands of years’ worth of knowledge, perspective and land management values while sharing implementation responsibilities.
- The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests (two agreements): The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians entered into an historic Tribal Forest Protection Act agreement – the first ever signed in the Forest Service’s Southern Region. Coupled with the signed Good Neighbor Agreement, the collective work integrates cultural and traditional ecological knowledge with silviculture and fire management to inform best management practices for basket-quality white oak trees and other culturally important forest products. This work also reduces fire risk, restores oak forests, improves wildlife habitat, creates early successional habitat, promotes cultural tourism and recreation, and reduces risk to tribal trust lands.
- Six Rivers National Forest: The Karuk Tribe, the Six Rivers National Forest in California, and other partners built on previous relationships to supplement a Master Stewardship Agreement for the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership Planning Area. This year’s agreement will address fuels reduction and forest health through collaboration and project monitoring, including strategic wildfire control features, integrated landscape-scale fuels reduction, and restorative prescribed fire treatments in the tribal community of Orleans. The planning area provides critical cultural, ecological, social, and economic resources that are essential for sustaining communities and ecosystems.
- Umpqua National Forest (two agreements): The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua and the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon signed one of the largest Forest Service Tribal Forest Protection Act proposals and the largest Forest Service self-determination agreements to date. The work will create shaded fuels breaks over 37 miles of strategically important areas of national forest that border tribal lands, the wildland urban interface and private property. This work will simultaneously reduce fuel concentrations enough to enable firefighters to use treatment areas as potential control lines in the event of future wildfires. The work also is expected to reduce the severity and intensity of fire through the treated areas.
In fiscal year 2022, Forest Service invested nearly $20 million in co-stewardship.