By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
According to the Intertribal Timber Council (ITC), around one-third of all trust lands throughout Indian Country is forest land. Lack of funding is hurting forests in many of these tribal areas according to a report released on Monday, June 17 by the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team (IFMAT). IFMAT III executive summary
This is the third study completed by IFMAT since the 1991 implementation of the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act which calls for an independent evaluation of Indian forests every ten years.
According to the report, there are 18 million acres of Indian forests located on 305 “forested” reservations in 24 states.
“The low level of funding is hurting the ability of Tribes to care for their lands and resources,” said Dr. John Gordon, leader of all three IFMAT studies. “Unless the United States provides adequate funding to fulfill its fiduciary trust obligations, the forests which are so essential to Tribal communities will ultimately deteriorate.”
The IFMAT report states, “The federal government continues to inadequately fulfill its trust obligations as evidenced by the fact that funding and staffing levels are lower now than at the time of IFMAT-1 in 1993 and well below those of comparable public and private programs. In spite of these shortfalls, tribes are assuming greater leadership through self-determination and self-governance.”
The report, based on 2011 figures, says that funding for Indian forestry management is around 39 percent ($100 million) below the $254 million “estimated as the minimum base level of funding for forest stewardship and timber production.”
The report also states that a minimum of 792 staff positions are needed to help bring Indian forestry “up to par with other forest” ownerships.
Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) said, “The federal government has a well-documented obligation to Indian forest lands. Unfortunately, due to fiscal irresponsibility, it has not always been able to live up to this obligation. The need to take better care of our natural treasures serves as further evidence of why we must get our entire fiscal house in order. Despite our financial challenges, we cannot lose sight of our duties. ”
Dr. Gordon stated, “It Tribes received the same level of funding that the federal government provides for federal forests, Tribal forests could serve as valuable models of sustainable stewardship. By melding both western science and traditional knowledge, Tribes could show us ways we could better care for our forests, address wildfire, insect and disease concerns, adapt to changing climatic conditions, and create more jobs.”
The report goes on to state a major recommendation, “The benefits of self-governance to Indian forests should be protected by provision of recurring funding and increased technical support where needed for tribal forestry and resource management. A system of base and incremental funding should be implemented.”
The report concludes, “To continue the successes in Indian forestry, these steps must be taken: restructuring the evaluation of trust oversight performance, ensuring adequate recurring funding geared to tribal goals, and improving technical assistance and cooperation. Fulfilling these tasks is not only necessary to meet the trust obligations of the U.S. government to Indian tribes, but would yield lasting contributions to the health and productivity of the nation’s forests.”