Herald and News: Klamath Falls, Oregon
ONRC announces its ideas for tribal lands
October 9, 2003
By DYLAN DARLING
The federal government should use private lands -
instead of Forest Service lands - to re-establish a
reservation for the Klamath Indian Tribes, according
to a proposal put forward Wednesday by the Oregon
Natural Resources Council.
The proposal calls for the government to purchase
lands or, when necessary, use eminent domain to
acquire private lands within the boundary of the
reservation as it existed in 1954, when the Klamath
Tribes were terminated.
Homes and up to 40 acres of adjoining would be
exempt from government acquisition.
Former tribal lands that became part of the national
forest system should remain in public ownership,
according to the plan developed by the
Portland-based environmental group that has been
active in Klamath Basin issues for years.
A spokesman for the ONRC said the proposal could
provide a solution to ongoing disputes over water in
the Klamath Basin.
Klamath Tribal Chairman Allen Foreman could not be
reached for comment on the ONRC's proposal.
Former Chairman Jeff Mitchell said he wished the
ONRC had consulted the Tribes before issuing the
"I just hope what we see isn't a tactic that is
going to be divisive between the Tribes and the
landowners up here," he said.
Talk of a deal in which the government would swap
more than 600,000 acres of national forest land in
exchange for the Klamath Tribes' senior water rights
has been bandied about for more than a year.
The ONRC opposes such a trade because its members
think the best way to protect land is to keep it in
public ownership, said Jay Ward, ONRC conservation
"We think it would be a bad decision economically
and ecologically," Ward said.
Jim McCarthy, ONRC policy analyst, said he doesn't
see how the deal being talked about between the
government and the Tribes would help the water issue
in the Basin as a whole.
"They are knocking off one aspect and not addressing
the central issue - how to meet all the competing
wants on the Klamath River," he said.
Using the figure that one acre of timberland is
worth $1,500, the ONRC estimates the value of the
more than 600,000 acres of land that could be given
to the Tribes to be about $1.5 billion.
Instead of replacing the reservation with public
land, the ONRC wants the government to acquire more
than 470,000 acres of private land and give that to
the Tribes for a reservation.
The ONRC's proposal includes:
n Purchase of the private land within the boundary
of the former reservation by the federal government.
The lands would then be handed over to the Tribes.
If landowners were unwilling to sell, the government
would exercise eminent domain to acquire the land.
n A congressionally appointed commission would be
set up to evaluate whether tribal members were
justly compensated for the lands lost to
n In exchange re-establishment of a reservation, the
Tribes would waive future claims to other lands
within the 1954 reservation boundary.
The Tribes have been talking with the government for
more than two decades about a way to get the lands
back, but talks between a Cabinet-level working
group and tribal leaders started in earnest a year
In a recent message to members of the Tribes,
Foreman said a land deal is probably about a year
The Tribes' reservation, which had about a million
acres, was abolished when the Tribes were terminated
in 1954. The Tribes regained federal recognition in
Mitchell said the Tribes have been talking with the
government about getting 670,000 to 690,000 acres of
public land for a reservation.
Negotiations have included informal discussions with
water users and land owners above and below Upper
"It appears we are really on track to pull this
together as a community," Mitchell said.
In an effort to get national support for its plan,
the ONRC sent a letter Wednesday to Oregon Sens.
Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Greg
Ward and McCarthy also hand-delivered a copy of the
proposal to the Klamath Tribes' office in Chiloquin.
McCarthy said the ONRC wants to get support for its
proposal in the Basin.
"This is where the idea has to fail or succeed -
this is the battleground," he said.
Although Ward said the Tribes should be compensated
for the damage that was done to members when its
lands were bought in 1954, the ONRC doesn't think
giving them public land is the way to do that.
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