Klamath plan meets opposition
Conservation groups say a proposed land transfer
threatens old growth and wilderness
10/11/03, Michelle Cole, The Oregonian
Fearing a potential decline in wilderness
preservation and stepped-up logging operations, 17
Northwest conservation groups this week opposed the
transfer of national forest lands the size of Rhode
Island to the Klamath Tribes.
Instead, the groups argued for the federal
government to purchase 400,000 acres of private
lands to compensate the tribes and bring an end to
the region's water battles.
But conservationists, led by the Oregon Natural
Resources Council, found no support Friday among
Klamath farmers and tribal leaders, who said any
such plan would only bring more anger and division
to the region.
The proposal comes as farmers and tribes, with the
Bush administration's support, try to forge an
agreement to assure farmers in the Klamath Project a
predictable, if reduced, water supply and to restore
fish and wildlife promised to the tribes under their
1864 treaty with the government.
"It's more chaos-making for the Klamath Basin," said
Becky Hatfield Hyde, who operates a small cattle
ranch with her husband near Beatty, Ore. "We are
finally having some legitimate talks and trying to
work some things out."
A key element in those talks involves the return to
the tribes of more than 1,000 square miles within
the Winema and Fremont national forests.
In a letter this week to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and
Gordon Smith, conservationists argued that the
national forest lands under discussion -- roughly
690,000 acres of former reservation land -- contain
47,000 acres of roadless areas suitable for
wilderness designation and more than 136,000 acres
of old-growth forest.
"We think the Klamath Tribes have been treated
unjustly by the government and are deserving of
remedy. Where we disagree is the nature of the
remedy," Jay Ward, conservation director for the
Oregon Natural Resources Council, said Friday.
Ward said the American public ought to retain access
to those lands as well as a voice over logging,
recreation and other activities that might occur
The tribes, meanwhile, have had forestry experts
from the University of Washington and Oregon State
University draw a blueprint to help them restore an
original ponderosa pine landscape through selective
logging and plantings.
Although Ward commended the tribes for their
"restoration vision," he said the federal law
governing Indian forest lands mandates that those
lands be developed for the benefit of the tribes.
"A different tribal council could decide, in the
interest of providing an economic engine for their
people, that logging old growth at a higher level or
at any level is a path they choose to go down," Ward
The council and other conservation groups propose
instead that Congress appoint a commission to
determine just compensation for the value of
reservation lands that once belonged to the Klamath
Tribes. Congress then would pursue acquisition of
private lands through either purchase or the federal
power of eminent domain.
Efforts to reach Wyden or Smith were not successful
Jeff Mitchell, former chairman of the Klamath Tribes
and a participant in the current talks with the Bush
administration, said the conservationists have
advanced "a terrible idea."
Given how the tribes lost their lands to the federal
government, Mitchell said he "wouldn't want private
landowners to feel like their property rights are
going to be put at risk and terminated as well."
What's more, Mitchell said, there's no firm
agreement at this point transferring national forest
lands to the tribes. Should such a transfer occur,
he said, the tribes plan to take care of their
"This is real unfortunate that we didn't have an
opportunity to sit down with the ONRC prior to the
release of this proposal to the public," he said.
"They haven't given the tribes a fair opportunity to
express to them or to the public the details of what
the tribes' proposals are for the recreation of a
The resources council was joined in its action by 16
other conservation groups, including Audubon Oregon,
the Audubon Society of Portland, the Friends of the
Columbia Gorge and the Hells Canyon Preservation
Michelle Cole: 503-294-5143; firstname.lastname@example.org
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