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The H&N view

published Dec. 3, 2003

The sooner private talks open up, the better

The protest Monday at the Shilo Inn about closed-door talks about re-establishing a reservation for the Klamath Tribes was a surprise to most people, but it probably shouldn't have been.

However well-intended the process being used in the talks is, it invites uncertainty, fear and hostility.

The meetings include tribal representatives, the federal government, the Klamath Water Users Association and selected other stakeholders. The number of people involved is kept low. The meetings aren't open to the press, the general public or to other groups who believe they should have a say in the issue.

One of the key participants is William Bettenberg, director of the Interior Department's office of policy analysis. The issue has high visibility within the Bush administration.

The Klamath Tribes want the reservation restored from about 690,000 acres that became the Winema National Forest and part of the Fremont National Forest after the reservation was terminated in 1954. The Tribes were paid for the land, but they maintain the process and the amount was un-fair. The government restored recognition of the Tribes in 1986, but without a reservation.

The people involved in the talks were brought together by the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, which is seeking solutions to the Basin's chronic water problems.

The Tribes hold priority water rights, but the state program to quantify water claims in the Basin hasn't determined how much the Tribes are entitled to. While the Tribes have denied there is no "land for water" deal on the table, the two issues are deeply intertwined. Much of the discussion at the talks has to deal with both.

Undoubtedly, it's easier to conduct such talks with fewer people, but it also leads to suspicion that those involved are cooking up a done deal.

The sooner the government, Tribes and everyone else involved can move into a more open process, the better for everyone. The closed process may do well for participants, but at some point - assuming they come to an agreement - they're going to have to convince everyone else it's a good agreement. It would need broad public support. Just telling everyone to "trust us," won't work.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, which consists of Publisher John Walker, Editor Tim Fought, City Editor Todd Kepple and Opinion Editor Pat Bushey.

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