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Tribes release forest plan

Will Hatcher, Klamath Tribes forester, explains how the Tribes want to restore the big ponderosa pine forests from overgrown stands like the one seen here on top of Spring Creek Hill. The Tribes released their forest management plan today. The plan also calls for restoring fish and wildlife habitat.

published Dec. 16, 2003

Wildlife habitat, large stands of old-growth pine are main goals


Restoration of wildlife habitat and open stands of old-growth ponderosa pine are the primary goals of a forest management plan the Klamath Tribes released today for national forest lands they hope to control someday.

The plan, developed by a pair of well-known forestry experts, calls for aggressive thinning of overgrown stands, and use of prescribed fire on 690,000 acres of land now owned by the Forest Service.

The Tribes are negotiating with the U.S. Department of Interior in the hope of regaining control of at least part of the reservation the government abolished in 1954.

Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said the Tribes want to restore the woods, the animals that live in them and the streams and rivers that run through them.

He said the Tribes will be able to carry out management strategies that the U.S. Forest Service officials can't because of politics.

"They have orders from higher up of things they can and cannot do," Foreman said Monday.

The focus of the plan is restoration, which will improve wildlife habitat as well as social and economic conditions for the Tribes and others in the Klamath Basin, Foreman said.

The Forest Service, he added, manages the forest for something other than restoration.

"It's been managed for one resource, which is timber, for 40-plus years," Foreman said.

Karen Shimamoto, supervisor of the Fremont-Winema National Forests, said the Tribes' plan isn't much of a departure from how the Forest Service is managing the forests.

"The overriding goal is to maintain and restore a healthy forest structure," Shimamoto said.

Although the forests were once managed to produce the most commercial timber possible, things changed about a decade and a half ago, Shimamoto said.

That's when the Northwest Forest Plan, designed to help save the endangered spotted owl, went into effect. Shimamoto said the Northwest Forest Plan guides management on some of the Fremont-Winema national forests and the rest of the forests are guided by a plan with restoration as the core goal.

The groundwork report to congress that led to President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan was written by the "gang of four," four prominent forestry scientists from across the country who came together on the report.

Two of those four - Norm Johnson of Oregon State University and Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington - were the principal scientists behind the Tribes' forest management plan.

Shimamoto said that is ironic, because the Tribes haven't always been helpful in the Forest Service's attempts to restore the forests.

"We have not always received their support to manage this way," she said.

Although the Klamath Tribes' reservation was abolished when the tribe was terminated in 1954, court decisions have affirmed the right of tribal members to hunt, trap, fish and gather on former reservation lands now in public ownership.

But the ability to enjoy those rights has been undermined by federal mismanagement has diminished the resources, Foreman said.

"We are concerned to the point that we feel we have to take control of those resources to get them back where we want them," Foreman said.

The Tribes have tried to address concerns among local residents uneasy about a tribal takeover of national forest lands.

A common concern is that the Tribes could change their plan after a settlement for the reservation was made and they took over management of the forests. But Foreman said the Tribes will be more consistent in their management than the federal government.

As part of the legislation that would give the Tribes a reservation again, there would be a requirement for the plan to be followed for 100 years, he said.

Along with working on the Northwest Forest Plan, Johnson said he has worked on many other forest plans, including one he is currently working on for the state of Oregon and one for the Warm Springs Tribes.

He said the Klamath Tribes' plan differs from what he is used to working on because its focus is to restore the lands, and not to produce a certain resource.

In working on the plan, Johnson, Franklin, other scientists and graduate students spent a lot of time in the field, seeing what they were really working with.

He said he spent 40 days in the field while working on the plan and said the best way to explain it is to take someone on a tour of the woods.

"It's so hard to explain these ideas, and so easy to argue about them, when you are sitting around a table," he said.

He said, so far, the plan has cost the Klamath Tribes about $150,000.

But, if implemented, the plan would take much more money - federal money.

The restoration part of the plan would cost about $7 million to $9 million per year to follow, depending on the market for the small-size timber that would be cleared from the ponderosa pine stands, Foreman said.

The cost would be only part of what the Tribes would eventually need to fully manage the forests, as they would also need funds for roads, fire suppression and other maintenance. Foreman said the Tribes would gradually take over management of the forests over seven years, starting with restoration projects.

The Tribes also propose transferring the Chiloquin Ranger District office, plus its records, equipment and vehicles, to the Tribes after seven years.

Once the forest is fully restored, Foreman said, the reservation will help the Tribes become entirely self-sufficient.

"Initially, it has to be a lot of up-front money from the federal government to restore the forest to where we can become self sufficient," he said.

Up in a snowy stand of ponderosa pines on Spring Creek Hill near Chiloquin, Will Hatcher, Klamath Tribes forester, said he sees a forest that needs to change for the resources to be restored.

In 1925 the stand had 50 to 60 ponderosa pines per acre, he said. Nowadays there are 500 to 600 trees per acre - many of which are other species such as white fir, that are crowding below the big pines.

Under the plan, the Tribes would remove half to two-thirds of the trees, mostly the smaller ones. He said trees with trunk diameters of 21 inches or more would stay, to create a forest dominated by big ponderosa pines.

The forest management plan will be available on the Tribe's Web site and in Klamath County Libraries.

The plan is up for review and public comment until Jan. 30, 2004, Foreman said. The Tribes will accept written or e-mailed comments to it and then evaluate them.

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







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