© 2016 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

The recent news about Senator Daines’ strategy to “revamp, streamline and improve” the management of our public lands has caused some folks to do a little digging.  After all 61% of the lands located in western Montana are federally owned “public lands.”

While Daines may have had noble intentions with his federal lands strategy as laid out in two recent posts by Dr. Kate (links at the bottom of this post), one cannot help but wonder who in Montana Daines shared his strategy with ahead of introducing his own bill to allow tribal management of these lands, and voting on other legislation with similar language.

Surely our senator consulted with commissioners in Flathead, Granite, Lincoln, Mineral and Ravalli Counties whose public lands make up 72%, 63%, 74%, 82% and 74% of their total land base respectively.

And of course he must have run his idea past ranchers in eastern Montana where 10% of Montana land east of the divide is owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

Without a doubt, he must have talked with the American Lands Council who is working diligently to restore public lands to state management.

And most importantly, certainly Daines must have contacted other western states (we are not talking about congressionals in those states) to see if they had any issues or problems with the potential of turning management of public lands over to qualifying tribes.

Sadly if anyone thought Daines would have reached out to any of these constituents or entities on this issue, they would most likely be very disappointed.

We had the opportunity to ask that very question of some of Daines’ Washington DC staff a few weeks ago, and their very uncomfortable response was that Daines had issued a press release concerning his grand plan for our public lands.  And upon reading it, we can see exactly who he reached out to.

For your reference, here is the content of Senator Daines’ press release.  (A PDF copy , including copies of the tribal letters of support can be found at this link.)

Daines Introduces Tribal Forestry Legislation 05/27/16

U.S. SENATE — U.S. Senator Steve Daines today introduced major legislation that will improve the health of both Indian and federal forest land.

Daines’ bill, the Tribal Forestry Participation and Protection Act helps keep Indian forest land and nearby federal forest land healthy by fostering greater cooperation between tribes and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. This legislation will empower Montana tribes and federal agencies with a new tool to expedite critical restoration projects on certain federal lands, thereby increasing active management and improving forest health. 

“We need commonsense forest management reform that cuts through the bureaucratic red tape, improves the health of our forests, creates good paying jobs and reduces the risk of catastrophic forest fires,” Daines stated.  

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold a hearing on Daines’ bill on June 8, 2016.

Daines’ bill will reduce the risk of wildfire on federal lands that neighbor tribal lands. The need for this legislation was demonstrated by last summer’s Spotted Eagle Fire, which started in upper Lonesome Creek drainage in the Badger Creek area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and expanded and crossed the forest boundary onto the Blackfeet Reservation. More details on that fire are available here.            

The Tribal Forestry Participation and Protection Act:

Cuts down on red tape and project delays:

  • Requires the Secretary of Agriculture or the Interior to provide tribes an initial response on a Tribal Forest Protection Act project request within 90 days and a denial no later than 1 year after the request is received.
  • Requires the Secretary to complete all necessary environmental reviews within two years.

Provides for enhanced forest management:

  • Creates a ten-year pilot program that authorizes the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, at the request of an Indian tribe, in consultation with state and local governments, to treat Federal forest land as Indian forest land for the sole purpose of expediting forest health projects on federal lands that have a direct connection to the tribe.
  • Keeps the land in federal ownership and maintains public access, revenue-sharing with state and local governments, prohibitions on log exports, recognition of existing of rights of way and county roads, and upholds environmental protections.
  • Ensures no other uses of public lands are impacted. 

Promotes tribal self-determination:

  • Gives the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior authority to enter into 638 contracts with tribes to complete administrative functions under the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004, rather than requiring that the federal government do it for them.
  • Daines’ bill has the broad support of Montana’s tribes and forest stakeholders.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Council Chairman Vernon Finley: “The proposed Tribal Forestry Participation and Protection Act of 2016 will provide additional opportunity for the The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to manage culturally and geographically related Forest Service lands previously ceded by Treaty with the United States and to foster great cooperation between the Tribes and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior.”

Chairman Finley’s full letter of support is available here.

Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote: “The Crow Tribe knows that tribal management of tribal forests is not only best practice, but an important expression of our tribal self-determination. It enhances our ability to stimulate the local tribal economy and provide employment opportunities, and income, for the Tribe as well as individual tribal members. The Act serves to provide additional opportunities to perform the above by authorizing tribal contracts with the federal government to manage federal forests within their former homelands as tribal forests.”

Chairman Old Coyote’s full letter of support is available here.

Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes: “The Blackfeet Tribe supports the Tribal Forestry Participation and Protection Act which will Federal greatly assist in fostering cooperative forestry management and planning on Tribal and forest lands.  The Tribe appreciates Senator Daines efforts to bring about such cooperation which will significantly increase protections for Tribal forest lands.” 

Intertribal Timber Council President Phil Rigdon: “We believe that, as the concepts and practices of forest management broaden across the landscape, the protection and participation your legislation affords Indian tribes are sensible and offer new, innovative and beneficial opportunities for all parties. We thank you for your sponsorship of the Tribal Forestry Protection and Participation Act of 2016, and look forward to working with you and your Senate colleagues to advance this legislation.”

President Phil Rigdon’s full letter of support is available here.

Executive Director of the Montana Wood Products Association Julia Altemus: “We applaud Senator Daines for introducing the “Tribal Forestry Participation and Protection Act of 2016.”  This bill will not only protect tribal forest assets through the use of Stewardship End Result contracting but will provide prompt consideration of tribal requests by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. Tools in the Act will help protect tribal timberland assets, will provide economic stability to tribal members, and will increase the ability of federal agencies meet their resource management goals.”

Perhaps because the state effectively ceded western Montana to the United States / CSKT with its support of the CSKT water compact, Daines thought it was necessary to only to consult with its perceived new owners.

There must be a legislator manual that the public is not privy to:

  1. Create a problem
  2. Find a resolution to that problem that creates a new problem to fix in the future
  3. Include goodies in the resolution in order to garner the all important “bi-partisan” support
  4. Make sure that the resolution flies under the radar of your constituents
  5. When you are called out on it, make sure your staff is trained to convey the magnificence of your solution
  6. And if that doesn’t work, chalk it up to the ignorance of your constituents and the fact that you know what is better for the people than the people do.
  7. Campaign to fix both problems, the one you didn’t fix and the new one you created.
  8. Return to step one.

Links to recent posts by Dr. Kate concerning the Daines legislation:

Montana Congressional Delegation Playing with Fire
National Implications of the CSKT Compact:  Forests and Range Lands at Risk