[env-trinity] Interesting Story on Termination of Klamath Tribes' Reservation

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Mon Feb 28 10:30:54 PST 2005

Restoring Klamath Heartlands 
Oregon's Unique Chance for Justice and Sustainability 

by EDWARD C. WOLF | posted 11.19.03 | 

In Oregon's Klamath Basin -- renowned for its water disputes -- a remarkable and little-noted story 
about land is unfolding. The current story begins 50 years ago, with a since-repudiated federal 
policy toward Indian tribes called "termination." 

It involves the chance to right a profound injustice, and an opportunity to achieve forest 
restoration on an unprecedented scale. However the story ends, it marks a profound moment in 
the history of Oregon and the West. 

When the Klamath Lake Treaty of 1864 reserved to the Klamath and Modoc Indians and the 
Yahooskin Band of the Snake Indians "the Klamath heartlands, including Upper Klamath and 
Agency lakes, as well as the Williamson and Sprague drainages," that two-million-acre territory 
contained one of the greatest ecological treasures of the American West. Despite survey errors and 
fraud that reduced the Tribes' reservation to 1.2 million acres, the Klamath Tribes retained an 
extraordinary estate of ponderosa pine watersheds protecting the integrity of the lakes and 
marshes that had been the keystone of tribal life for thousands of years. 

"The greatest stand" 

The park-like groves of yellow pine sheltered more mule deer than loggers until the early 20th 
century. In 1913, influenced by the ideas of progressive-era Forest Service chief Gifford Pinchot, 
the U.S. Indian Service (precursor to the Bureau of Indian Affairs) worked with the Tribes to begin 
a conservative program of sustained-yield logging on Klamath lands. Trees were milled locally 
and sold to produce income for the Tribes. At an annual cut of about 80 million board-feet, this 
harvest produced an annuity of roughly $1000 for each tribal member, helping to give the Tribes 
an important measure of stability and economic well-being. 

Two-thirds of the Klamath Reservation Forest were selectively cut over the next forty years, 
leaving nearly one hundred thousand acres of old-growth ponderosa pine untouched. At 
mid-century, the forest contained some 4.6 billion board-feet of timber, most of that on lightly-cut 
stands. Future Oregon governor Tom McCall, while working for a committee of the state 
legislature in 1957, described that forest simply as "the greatest single stand of Ponderosa pine to 
be found anywhere in the West." 

The era of termination 

In the early 1950s, U.S. Interior Secretary Douglas McKay (a former Oregon governor) and his 
Congressional allies advocated a policy of "termination" to dissolve Federal trust responsibilities to 
Indian tribes. Termination was adopted as national policy by an act of Congress in 1953. The first 
tribes chosen to demonstrate the policy included the only two in the country with extensive 
timber lands, the Menominee of Wisconsin and the Klamath Tribes of Oregon. 

The Klamath Termination Act, passed in August 1954, dissolved the Klamath Tribes and forced 
tribal members to make a choice: take their share of tribal assets in cash, or join a group 
arrangement that would administer their collective share of former tribal assets in trust. Misled 
about the implications of the vote they would cast, three-quarters of the enrolled tribal members 
voted to withdraw and accept their shares in cash. 

The cash-distribution provision contained in the law forced the public auction of tribal assets to 
raise the money needed to pay withdrawing members. The tribal estate, consisting almost 
entirely of land and timber, was privatized and would be liquidated to fulfill the law's intent. 
Congress had put the forested watersheds of the Klamath heartlands on the chopping block. 

A Rude Awakening 

With the termination of the Klamath Tribes a regrettable fait accompli, Oregon's political and 
opinion leaders awoke to the fact that an act of Congress was poised to annihilate one of the state's 
most beautiful and valuable landscapes. Why? Because public auction would unleash an 
accelerated clearcut of the Klamath forest that was certain to be economically and ecologically 
devastating. Tom McCall observed at the time that "'boom and bust' land speculators and lumber 
interests plotted to control the Klamath Basin," to the detriment of the Tribes, local communities, 
the regional timber market, and the entire state. 

To pay the $90 million appraised value of the Klamath forest, private timber operators would 
likely liquidate an estimated two-thirds of the standing volume of pine in a couple of seasons of 
frenzied cutting. This would require a cut forty times greater than the sustained-yield harvests of 
the pre-termination years. 

With unprecedented unity of purpose, Oregon politicians at every level, from the Klamath County 
Courthouse to the United States Senate, swung into action to prevent this catastrophe. The only 
feasible alternative appeared to be federal purchase of the Klamath forest lands for management 
under the multiple-use sustained-yield mandate then governing the National Forests. 

Oregon senator Richard Neuberger introduced a bill in 1957 to delay the auction of tribal assets 
and arrange the federal purchase of the Klamath Reservation lands. In a compromise with the 
Secretary of the Interior, Neuberger ultimately endorsed and secured passage of a bill that 
appropriated $90 million to purchase the land and required any private buyers of Klamath forest 
lands to log only according to the government's sustained yield restrictions ? a clause that made 
private purchase unattractive to nearly all buyers. 

>From reservation to national forest 

The array of the bill's supporters read like a "Who's Who" of post-war Oregon politics. The outcome 
allowed members of the Klamath Tribes to receive the cash distribution promised them by law, 
while creating the new Winema National Forest and adding acreage to the existing Fremont 
National Forest. The upland pine forests encircling the Klamath Basin were spared the 
consequences of a reckless act of Congress, a conservation victory that foreshadowed the forest 
protection battles of later decades. 

Neuberger's celebratory article in the April 1959 issue of Harper's, "How Oregon Rescued a 
Forest," failed to enumerate the costs of that rescue to the people of the Klamath Tribes. The 
termination policy proved to be a social and economic disaster for the tribes, a dark era in which 
the community's land and resource wealth was converted into money that quickly dissipated, 
given the obstacles to purchase of the former reservation lands by tribal members. Tribal identity 
suffered under the duress of the times. The minority of Klamath individuals who had agreed to 
have their share of tribal assets managed in private trust by U.S. Bank voted in 1970 to dismiss 
the trustee; the bank interpreted the vote as one to dissolve the trust itself. Senator Mark Hatfield 
overcame the opposition of the Nixon Administration to achieve federal purchase of the lands that 
had been held in that trust, adding 135,000 acres to the Winema National Forest. 

Slow steps toward sovereignty 

It took another decade and a half for the Klamath Tribes to petition successfully for the restoration 
of their status, finally accomplished and signed into law by President Reagan in 1986. Though the 
Klamath Reservation was not reconstituted at that time, the law did require a plan for the Tribes' 
economic self-sufficiency. The return of tribal lands became the natural centerpiece of that plan, 
submitted to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in 2000. The Tribes' effort to build a 
secure future emphasized developing their capacity to manage the former reservation for 
ecological health and the economic well-being of Klamath members. 

Meanwhile, in the four decades since the creation of the Winema National Forest, the U.S. Forest 
Service replaced its historically conservative sustained-yield policy with an emphasis on 
even-aged management and elevated timber harvests. Unconstrained road-building and logging 
in the 1980s and early 1990s gave way to the near-shutdown of commercial logging on federal 
lands during the past decade. The forests of the former Klamath Reservation bear the scars of this 
policy whip-saw, though had the land been clear-cut as foreseen at termination, restoration would 
be far more challenging. 

More than 300,000 acres have been degraded by heavy cutting or recent clear-cuts. Another 
300,000 acres have been "structurally simplified" by logging and fire suppression. On roughly 
100,00 acres stand "structurally complex" forests with the big pines that characterized most of 
the Klamath Reservation Forest until the middle of the 20th century. More than half the forest is 
well-suited to restoration work that could generate modest timber revenues, reduce the risk of 
wildfire, and restore conditions conducive to the Tribes' treaty-protected subsistence hunting and 
gathering practices. 

A hopeful chapter 

Working with a team of nationally renowned forest scientists led by K. Norman Johnson of Oregon 
State University, the Klamath Tribes have developed a forest management plan anchored in the 
tribe's vision and values. 

In 2002, President Bush appointed a cabinet-level Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group 
chaired by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, which is due to make policy recommendations on a 
number of contentious Klamath Basin land and water issues this fall. Many people believe the 
Working Group is sympathetic to return of the Klamath Tribes' reservation -- which would 
constitute about 690,000 acres and would include forest lands within the Winema and Fremont 
National Forests that fall within the boundaries of the former reservation. The Klamath Tribes 
have begun an ambitious effort at community outreach, to explain their goals and vision for the 
former reservation to their Klamath Basin neighbors and others. 

Fifty years ago, the Klamath heartlands could easily have become a brushy, cut-over moonscape 
prone to flash floods and droughts that would have further destabilized the Klamath Basin's water 

Instead, the forest stands diminished from its former grandeur but in a condition to respond to 
restoration efforts guided by the Tribes' values. Return of the forest to the Klamath Tribes under a 
sustainable management plan could fulfill a struggle toward justice and sustainability that is 
unique in Oregon's history. 

Feelings run high on all sides of the issue. But Klamath Tribes member and planning specialist 
Anna Bennett finds hope expressed best in the Tribes' vision for the forest: 

"When we heal the land, we also heal people." 

? 30 ? 

Edward C. Wolf is currently working on a book titled "Klamath Heartlands: A Guide to the 
Klamath Reservation Forest Management Plan," scheduled for publication in 2004 by the 
Klamath Tribes and Ecotrust. The views expressed here are his own. 
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