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Forests' fate causes concern along Sprague

published November 5, 2003

Area residents concerned about national forest land becoming Tribes' reservation


SPRAGUE RIVER - Al and Garnett Bowa moved up to the Sprague River Valley from San Francisco two years ago because they loved the idea of having a national forest as a backyard playground.

"We bought our piece of property because it was surrounded by national forest," Garnett Bowa said. "We thought we would have no neighbors and we could recreate."

The retired couple has a 115-acre spread with national forest land on two sides and the Sprague River running through it. They use the national forest for snowmobiling, horse riding and other recreation.

Now they are worried because of the talk that public lands might become a reservation for the Klamath Tribes.

The Bowas are not alone in their concerns about the possible transfer of up to 690,000 acres of national forest land from the federal government to the Klamath Tribes. Those concerns are shared by many who live near the national forest land that once was the Tribes' reservation.

Ever since word of the informal talks between irrigators from above Upper Klamath Lake, Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators, the Klamath Tribes and Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust started to spread across the Klamath Basin, small-acreage landowners near the lands at issue have been wondering what it will mean for them and what it will take to get their voices heard.

Bob Sanders, former president of the Sprague River Water Users, said many people have been coming to him to ask what is going on. Sanders has ranched in the Sprague for 27 years and recently was added to the roster of folks taking part in the informal talks.

"People are scared. They are really scared," he said.

Especially those who own an acre or two, he said. He said they are worried they might get lost in the mix as the government tries to make larger groups happy.

"All of them have the fear of what the government might do," he said. "They want to know what is going on and so do I."

Sanders said people wonder what kind of sacrifices the government might make to try to get action.

"That's the biggest source of fear in all of us - that they will sacrifice one group to please another group," he said.

Al Bowa, who owned an elevator company for 40 years in San Francisco before moving to Klamath County, said he is concerned about what the Tribes will do if they get the land they want.

Changes in access, hunting regulations and logging practices head up the list of concerns for Al Bowa. He said he also wonders how the Tribes will fund the management they are calling for and what overall impact the deal would have on Klamath County.

And that is just the start.

The more they hear about the potential deal, the more questions he and his wife come up with.

He said he doesn't want the deal to go down.

"It's national forest, and I think it should remain public lands," Bowa said.

In public meetings and during tours, the Klamath Tribes have said their forest plan would guide management of the woods around Chiloquin and up the Sprague River Valley for 100 years.

But Garnett Bowa said although the Tribes can say whatever they want in a meeting, they don't have to do what they said once they have the land.

She is concerned because the Tribes have their own government and she said they wouldn't have to answer to federal regulations on forests in the reservation lands.

Anna Bennett, a planning specialist for the Klamath Tribes who has been involved with the forest plan, said the Tribes will have an organized system for planning and reviewing forest projects, and resolving disputes.

She said the Tribes are going to outline just what they want to do with the land in the forest plan.

"We are going to manage it to restore the land," she said.

Garnett Bowa, who is a retired veterinary technician, said she also wonders how the Tribes would manage the land, given some of the hunting practices she has seen.

"Why are they saying they are such good forest managers and wildlife managers when they spotlight animals?" she said.

Many people also want to know about the history of the Klamath Tribes and how they ended up without a reservation in the first place, she said.

The Bowas said they didn't know about any potential deal for a land return until recently. She said it would have been a factor in whether they bought their place. She said she knows of three other landowners in the Sprague River Valley who wouldn't have bought land if they had known about the possible deal for a new reservation.

Jeanee Conner, who with her husband bought a 100-acre ranch in the Sprague River Valley last October, said the talks would have given the couple "pause until it had all been settled."

The couple moved onto their ranch in July. For 55 years, they had a horse ranch near Sacramento.

About a month ago they first heard about the potential return of the national forest land to the Klamath Tribes.

Conner said the big three concerns she sees are land use, what happens to landowners surrounded by current national forest land, and how all this will affect people's water supplies.

She said she has been to a half-dozen meetings about the topic, but keeps coming up with more questions.

"There are so many things going on, there are so many facets to it - it is hard to keep it all organized," she said.

Reporter Dylan Darling covers natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4471, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at ddarling@heraldandnews.com.

Tribes plan public meetings

The Klamath Tribes have scheduled a series of public meetings to answer questions and address concerns on the possible restoration of the Tribes' reservation. Details on page A2.

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