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Transfer issue tabled February 7, 2007

Followed by: Testimony about the resolution

H&N photo by Todd E. Swenson
Rod Clarke stresses his opposition to transferring public land to the Klamath Tribes Tuesday at the Klamath County Government Center.

Klamath County commissioners indefinitely tabled a resolution opposing transfer of the Winema-Fremont National Forest and Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to the Klamath Tribes.

Commissioners reached their decision after five hours of testimony Tuesday from proponents and opponents of the resolution. The public hearing ended with individuals from both sides saying they're willing to meet and negotiate, a pleasing conclusion for commissioners.

"I think this is exactly what needed to happen to move ahead," Commissioner Bill Brown said.

Members of the Klamath Basin Alliance submitted a petition with 1,100 signatures to the commissioners in December. The alliance opposes transfer of ownership or management of any 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.

Federal officials, including U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said local support for the reservation's re-creation would be vital if it was to happen.

Nearly 100 people attended the hearing, filling the commissioner's hearing room, a hallway and an overflow meeting room with a television showing the proceedings.

Before the hearing, commission chairman John Elliott said there would be no time limit for speakers. Thirty testified.

"I want you to be able to tell us what you think, not just a sound bite or a bumper sticker," he said.

Elliott also said there are no talks about a land exchange, sale or swap with the Tribes.

Testimony was emotionally charged at times, but only one brief shouting match occurred.

Proponents advocated the need to keep public lands open for hunters and outdoor recreationists. Concerns about private landowners within any future reservation's boundaries were raised, as were rights to water produced or flowing through that reservation, economic effects and government compensation to the Tribes for the lands.

Opponents of the resolution said the Tribes have no current proposals to recreate their reservation. Tribal members brought up misconceptions about the dissolution of the reservation in the 1950s and what sovereignty such a reservation would have today.

Others testified that public lands are sold and exchanged constantly and broaching this subject now is disrupting dialogue between the Tribes and Basin irrigators about water supplies.

Everyone agreed that any decision about creation of a tribal reservation should be done at the local level and not be left to federal officials and outside interest groups.

As the hearing ended, Allen Foreman, Klamath Tribes chairman, offered Klamath Basin Alliance members a place in any future discussions about a reservation if the resolution was withdrawn.

Foreman also requested the two groups sit down to discuss any misinformation that was disseminated because of the issue.

Glenn Howard, Klamath Basin Alliance chairman, said he could not offer an immediate response to Foreman's offer, but he would approach alliance members.

The three commissioners agreed the hearing provided necessary dialogue.

Elliott admitted he had trepidations about the hearing, but said he was glad to see shifts in perceptions occur because of it.

"I originally opposed it. I was wrong," Elliott said.

Brown said other pressing matters kept the issue simmering for too long, adding that other groups besides irrigators and the Tribes need representation at the table, he said.

Commissioner Al Switzer said he was tired of the rumors alleging back room dealings about creation of a tribal reservation, and said the hearing made way for discussions that need to take place.

"It makes no difference to me whether it's a round table, square table or just a room," he said.

-By Ty Beaver


Testimony about the resolution

Feb. 7, 2007

The Klamath Basin Alliance asked county commissioners to approve a resolution opposing transfer or management of public lands to the Klamath Tribes.

Testimony for the resolution

  • Glenn Howard: Howard said he was concerned about what would happen to private landowners residing in the boundaries of any future reservation. He also was worried about access to hunting and fishing areas as well as water supplies if a sovereign nation were created in the county.

    He also said that Klamath Basin Alliance is not targeting the Tribes and is opposed to any transfer of land to any private entity.

  • Clifton Smith: Smith wanted to know what would happen to his 200 acres on the Sprague River if the Tribes did recreate a reservation they once had.

    "Why do an injustice to me to correct another wrong?" he said.
  • William Adams: Adams said he was concerned what effect on the county's economy would occur with the creation of a tribal reservation.

    "We all saw what happened when the water was shut off," he said.
  • Jeff Woodwick: Woodwick spoke on behalf of the Klamath County Republican Central Committee at the hearing. While the resolution is worded harshly, the committee thinks the resolution should pass if concerns about a reservation are immediately relevant.

    "If it's a rumor, it will be a relief and a tragic turn of events," he said.

    Testimony against the resolution

  • Rod Clarke: Clarke said there have been misconceptions about the Tribes' past reservation and other historical information. He also told commissioners there is no land proposal from the Tribes at this time and any such proposal would require federal legislation and discussions about various concerns.

    "It's time to have a rational discussion based on facts and not on finger pointing," he said.
  • Marnie Morrow: Morrow said she saw a presentation by the Klamath Basin Alliance at a Klamath County Republican Central Committee that encouraged prejudices that went beyond her experience.

    "Many of the things said at that meeting were difficult to sit through," she said.
  • Dan Keppen: Keppen said he was opposed to the resolution as written, but the concerns it created need to be considered.

    "I have folks on both sides of the issue I'm close with," he said.
  • Allen Foreman, Klamath Tribes chairman: Foreman said Klamath Basin Alliance appears to be afraid that the Tribes could be self-sufficient again and has used misinformation to frighten other county residents.

    Nevertheless, Foreman said the group does represent a facet of the county that needs a place at the table when it comes to discussing any future land proposal for the Tribes.

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