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Land transfer to Tribes opposed

February 5, 2007 Herald and News

Klamath County commissioners want to know how the public feels about future transfer of ownership or management of the Fremont-Winema National Forests to the Klamath Tribes.

A public hearing on the issue will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Klamath Basin Alliance

Members of the Klamath Basin Alliance submitted 1,100 petitions to the commissioners in November requesting the hearing and the commissioners' support against any transfer of public lands.

The organization's efforts have individuals and organizations in the Basin questioning the need for a hearing or the motivation behind it.

“People need to look forward and cooperate,” said Steve Kandra, president of the Klamath Basin Water Users Association.

The Klamath Basin Alliance opposes the transfer of ownership or management of any part of public lands to a private entity, including the Klamath Tribes. Two years ago, the Tribes sought to recreate the reservation they had before losing federal recognition in 1961. The Tribes regained recognition in 1986.

Tribal officials assert that in order 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 for the reservation's creation would be vital.

Glenn Howard of Klamath Basin Alliance said the petitions were a response to a meeting between tribal and county officials in 2005 when the tribe offered to pay for public lands to gain ownership.

While the meetings that were supposed to follow never occurred, Howard said his organization was still concerned about preserving public claim to the forest and the watershed it includes.

Howard said Klamath Basin Alliance is not anti-tribe and just wants to make sure public lands remain public.

“We were told there'd never be a good time so we're just going to go ahead and do it,” he said.

Kandra said he didn't understand the need for a hearing. His organization works closely with the Tribes, and he said they have no intention of obtaining portions of the forest for a reservation at this time.

Any discussion or fear of a transfer of land to the Tribes is an artifact of past concerns and no longer relevant, he said.

Kandra also said since the Klamath Basin Alliance broached the subject of a land transfer, negotiations between Basin irrigators and the Tribes, which hold senior rights to regional water supplies, have been difficult and less effective than before.

“These little spot fires are distracting,” he said.

Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, also acknowledged misgivings about the hearing in a letter sent to commissioner chairman John Elliott.

“It is our understanding that the hearing is in response to a petition that opposes recovery of land by the Tribes,” Foreman wrote. “Our understanding is admittedly incomplete since we have not been provided with the petition nor with an explanation of the purpose of the hearing; and of course the Tribes are not advancing a land recovery proposal at this time, so the context of the hearing is difficult to ascertain.”

Becky Hyde of Beatty raised similar concerns in a letter to the editor published Jan. 31 in the Herald and News. She wrote she hoped more efforts would be made to strengthen the Basin's agricultural, tribal and business communities.

Good relations with the Tribes is essential to those who rely on agriculture in the region and there is no “deal on the table” to return any lands to the Tribes, Hyde's letter said.

“I'm frustrated when the Basin Alliance tries to tie its banner onto Basin agriculture,” Hyde wrote.

Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, said he had not heard of any land proposal from the Tribes recently and was unclear as to what Klamath Basin Alliance was asking the commissioners to do.

Keppen said he planned to attend the hearing and would form his opinions as a result of what is said then.


H&N Staff Writer
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