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The other side of the tribal quest for forest lands

Lynn T. Bayona is chairman of the Klamath Basin Alliance, which opposes the proposed return of land in the Fremont-Winema National Forests to the Klamath Tribes as a reservation.

 July 11, 2005

Recently, the Herald and News ran a five-part article on the status of the Klamath Tribes, their reasons and efforts to gain ownership of 730,000-plus acres of national forest lands and certain refuge lands. With the exception of a few minor points, the articles were well written and generally accurate. However, there is another side to the tribal quest for public lands.

The Klamath Basin Alliance was in opposition to the first effort some time ago, and opposes the current tribal plan to take the majority of the Fremont-Winema National Forests lands as reservation lands. To the alliance, public lands, which are held open for use by the entire population of the people of Oregon and of the people of the United States in general, should remain in public ownership forever. Regardless of tribal wishes or the wishes of any other interest seeking control of those lands.

The Klamath Basin Alliance enjoys large community support from those who wish to maintain public ownership of National Forest lands and other public lands which are utilized by all users, not solely water users. In the case of the current tribal effort to gain control of that land, it must also be noted that many thousands of private landowners would be within the boundaries of the proposed reservation. The rights of those landowners to use their land as they wish would be greatly diminished under tribal control.

The fact that tribal sovereignty comes with the ownership of the land places new and one-sided land use controls on private landowners as dictated by tribal interests and Tribal Council decisions. Water flowing through reservation lands would fall under tribal control as dictated in the tribal constitution. Those water flows are a great deal of the water going to Upper Klamath Lake. One can only imagine the water nightmares which would follow.

In all actuality, if ownership by the tribes of the 730,000 acres were to take place, it would be placing a separate government, much the same as that of another nation, in control of a very large piece of the most beautiful part of Oregon. It is not difficult to imagine what private landowners, recreationists, hunters, fishermen and other users of those lands may face having a separate set of regulations and rules posed by tribal government control, a government that would dictate who can and cannot use their private lands within reservation boundaries as they wish.

Hunting tags and fishing privileges in that part of the state of Oregon would no longer be available or under state control. The tribes would control all aspects of fish and game management and access to any resource for any reason.

The drawdown effect on the economy of Southern Oregon in tourism and other financial aspects, along with the operating budget of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife can be summed up in one word: disastrous.

Use of public lands for recreation, hunting, fishing and a myriad of other uses basically comes under the "multiple use policy" in effect on most public lands. Large numbers of people in the general population to date have had virtually no voice in the ongoing efforts of the tribes to gain ownership of National Forest lands, public lands, all of which, 730,000-plus acres, were legally purchased and paid for, using taxpayer money, some years ago.

The sale of the lands, which the tribes wish now to regain, was done with tribal approval and a vote of tribal members. The alliance has copies of the congressional notes and actions from federal archives that substantiate this fact.

Another point that should be addressed is the "downtrodden" Indian syndrome. At one time or another, I would venture to say, every American has made bad investments, or squandered money on foolish things, yes, even drank it away. But no one with the exception of the tribes feels that the American public should repay them for mismanagement of money. We all take that risk in a free society. Today, in view of the monies and benefits of ongoing government largess granted solely to the tribes, the "downtrodden Indian" syndrome seems out of place.

It is for these reasons and more that the Klamath Basin Alliance has a plan to address this issue. The Klamath Basin Alliance has established a very efficient network of aid from political leaders from Salem to Washington, D.C., and plans to apply the necessary pressure to stop the acquisition of National Forest lands for purposes other than use by the people of the United States.

The lands of the Fremont-Winema National Forests are public lands, and like all U.S. public lands, are not for sale or trade.




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