Forests on reservations underfunded, report says

Jeff Barnard / The Associated Press Published Jun 14, 2013 at 05:00AM

GRANTS PASS — Forests held in trust for Indian tribes across the nation are woefully underfunded by the federal government, according to a report issued Thursday by a panel of experts.

The congressionally mandated report for the Intertribal Timber Council was released at the group’s annual meeting on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin.

It found that tribal forests covering about 28,000 square miles nationwide receive about half of the funding per acre provided to national forests for wildfire prevention, and about one-third of national forests’ funding rate for forest management. That leaves tribal forests understaffed as they deal with increasing threats of wildfire related to global warming and change their goals from timber production to forest restoration.

Council President Phil Rigdon, who oversees natural resources for the Yakama Nation in Washington state, said from Wisconsin that the lack of funding makes managing tribal forests a struggle as many tribes take over operations from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The forests represent major assets for tribal culture as well as tribal economies, he added.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jerry Franklin, a University of Washington forestry professor who took part in the first reviews of the state of tribal forests in 1993, said problems identified in the latest report seemed to have changed little from years past.

“What we see on Indian lands in many ways reflects what we also see on the federal forest lands: inadequate funding, inadequate staffing levels, insufficient resources in terms of qualified personnel and funds to do an appropriate job of stewardships,” Franklin said from Seattle.

He said the consequences of forest management are felt more intensely by tribes than Americans in general because they live closer to the forests and relate to them culturally.

The report was issued by a panel led by John Gordon, former dean at Yale School of Forestry, and John Sessions, professor of forest engineering at Oregon State University. It said funding and staffing levels for tribal forests are lower than they were when the original review was done in 1993, and well below those for national, state and private forests.

“Challenges such as losses of infrastructure, declines in forest health, and changing climate require urgent action,” the report said. “Progress will not occur without resolve and increased investment on the part of political leadership.”

There is no effective mechanism for enforcing performance standards, the report added.

Indian forests need a minimum of $254 million from the federal government but only receive $154 million, the report said. That leaves tribes to rely on grants, which are unstable as a source of funding.