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Forest hearing scheduled

January 17, 2007, Herald and News

The Klamath Board of County Commissioners scheduled a public hearing Feb. 6 to discuss whether ownership of the Fremont-Winema National Forests should be transferred to the Klamath Tribes.

It's the latest development in a debate over ownership of public lands and one that split the commissioners. Commissioners Al Switzer and Bill Brown voted for the public hearing and chairman John Elliott voted against it.

“I question whether a public hearing like this does anything positive for our community,” Elliott said.

The Klamath Basin Alliance submitted 1,100 signatures in December against the transfer of public lands. The organization opposes the transfer of ownership of any part of the forest from the federal government to the Klamath Tribes, which are seeking to recreate the reservation they had before losing federal recognition in 1961. The Tribes regained recognition in 1986.

Sulf-sufficiency wanted

The possibility of re-creating sovereign tribal lands from the national forest was broached in late 2003 when tribal officials began working with the federal government on the issue.

Tribal officials say for the Tribes to become self sufficient, they need to have land on which to base their economy and society. Federal officials, including U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said local support would be vital if it was to happen.

Brown said ownership of the federal lands is an issue that needs to be discussed, and the alliance submitted the necessary signatures.

Elliott said that he opposed the hearing because the federal government does not have to consider the county's decision on the matter, and the county has no jurisdiction over the forest. The hearing also will only raise negative opinions and biases between county residents.

Important decisions to come

Switzer said the hearing should take place, but added the county will need to be careful that whatever position is taken, it is still at the table when the issue is discussed by federal officials.

He cited the water crisis in 2001 as a time when the county wanted to send water to ranchers and farmers but didn't to preserve a chance for negotiations with the federal government.

‘We just need to be careful what position the board takes,” Switzer said.

- Ty Beaver
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