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House Committee on Resources Press Release

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For Immediate Release
February 26, 2004
From the House Resource C ommittee

Pombo, Feinstein Introduce Tribal Forest Protection Act

Washington, DC - House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Tribal Forest Protection Act today in both the House and Senate respectively. This Act will provide Native American tribes with conservation and protection tools to help them fully participate in the new Healthy Forests law.

The United States government has a trust responsibility to protect Indian land and resources. But every fire season, wildfires jump from U.S. Forest Service and BLM land onto Indian reservations. Last summer, at least 18 reservations were invaded by fire from adjacent federal public forest lands. In the southern California fires, 11 reservations were burned, two completely, and a number of lives were tragically lost.

"The Healthy Forests Restoration Act focused needed attention and assistance on serious problems concerning forest health, particularly the explosive build-up of hazardous fuels in federal forests," Chairman Pombo said. "We emphasized community participation and protection in that bill, and that is exactly what we are doing for tribes in this new legislation."

The Pombo-Feinstein legislation authorizes the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to enter into agreements with tribes to conduct land management activities on Forest Service and BLM lands adjacent to Indian trust land and Indian communities where the Forest Service or BLM land poses a fire, disease or other threat.

"This bill gives Native American tribes the chance to defend themselves and their ancestral lands from catastrophic fires by involving them in brush-clearing projects on federal lands near their reservations," Senator Feinstein said. "I am determined to give the tribes of my State and from around the country the opportunity to prevent tragedies like those we have seen in recent years from recurring."

This authority supplements existing laws, such as stewardship contracting, and is intended to result in tribes proposing and carrying out tribal forest protection projects, including such actions as hazardous fuels removal and thinning.

As such, the bills also authorize the Secretaries to give particular consideration to unique circumstances and factors presented by tribal forest protection proposals.

Because these proposals are for lands adjacent to trust land, these unique factors could include the federal trust responsibility, tribal off-reservation treaty rights, cultural and traditional interests, and the tribe's history of stewardship.

The Tribal Forest Protection Act is supported by the Intertribal Timber Council, the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, as well as individual tribes, including the Tule River Tribe, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Mescalero Apache and Jicarilla Apache Tribes and more.

 

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