“We have businesses tied to this, but what we do on the land is what we leave to the next generation.”
— Phil Rigdon ’02 M.F., Yakama Nation
“We have businesses tied to this, but what we do on the land is what we leave to the next generation,” said Rigdon. “And I think that’s a very important part of our directive and our relationship to the land, that connection of place, of who we are as members of our individual tribes.”
“Reservation tribes have a very different situation in that they have to live with all the consequences of their decisions,” said John Gordon, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). “They live in and among the results of their management, unlike the public at large, who obviously mostly live in cities and tend to have single interests — fire, water, wildlife, fish. The tribes tend to be interested in all of that and want their forests to continue to provide a range of values.”
These issues took center stage at the Yale-Intertribal Timber Council Tribal Forestry Summit hosted by F&ES last October. The historic, two-day event drew together forest managers, scholars, and students from across the country seeking solutions to the complex challenges facing Native forestry.
Some of those in attendance were the very students schools like F&ES hope to recruit in order to cultivate the next generation of tribal foresters.
Gordon has become somewhat of an expert on Native forestry. Over the past two decades, he has co-chaired three national assessments on behalf of the Intertribal Timber Council, a national non-profit consortium of tribes and Alaska Native Corporations dedicated to improving Native natural resource management.
Gordon admits he had some misconceptions about Native forest management when he began leading the assessments 20 years ago. “You know, never having paid much attention to it, I assumed it wasn’t very good,” he said. “But looking into it, they do a terrific job, particularly considering the [limited] resources they have. The real proof in the pudding is the forests themselves.”
Native forest management, like other agreements between the federal government and sovereign tribes, is unnervingly complex. The 1990 National Indian Forest Resources Management Act (NIFRMA) requires the Department of the Interior to conduct periodic assessments of tribal forests, which are held in trust by the federal government. Since 1993, the Secretary of the Interior has contracted with the ITC to conduct these assessments. Not surprisingly, most reservations with significant timber holdings are located out West. And while tribes must adhere to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, management tends to reflect the needs of each community.
According to the most recent ITC report, released in 2013, tribal land management is undergoing a “profound transformation” from policies dominated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to those that incorporate tribal visions and values for the land.