WASHINGTON — An Indian tribe is seeking federal backing for legislation transferring portions of Redwood National Park, Six Rivers National Forest and marine sanctuary waters off northern California to be run as a tribal park, according to documents posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Targeted lands are among the most beautiful spots along the rugged coast where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean.
Draft legislation sent to the National Park Service by the lobbyist for the Yurok Tribe would award the tribe title to and/or management authority over thousands of acres of federal lands, including –
The bill would also appropriate $50 million in federal funds to purchase nearby private lands for the Yurok. The Tribe’s lobbyist and “point person” for the deal, T. Destry Jarvis, a Clinton-era Interior Department (DOI) appointee and older brother of current National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan Jarvis, acknowledged that the draft bill goes beyond previous land transfers of park lands to Tribes and will require “signoff from higher levels of NPS and DOI,” according to a May 21, 2010 e-mail to Redwood Superintendent Steve Cheney obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act.
“This would be an unprecedented and unjustified giveaway of treasured public resources,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the effort was taking place behind-the-scenes. “These lands are held in common for all citizens of the U.S., including the Yuroks, and that is the way they should stay.”
Congress has created few national parks with as much struggle as was required to protect the remaining stands of Redwoods. Established in 1968, expanded in 1978, the Park Service acquired largely privately-owned lands to forge a magnificent park on the north coast of California. The lands lay one mile on either side of the Klamath River and were once part of the Yurok ancestral homeland, and remain important to it; however, the same can be said for most national park lands which have similar histories.
The draft legislation stipulates that ceded lands “will be administered by the Tribe in a manner fully compatible with the policies and programs of the respective federal agencies” – in this instance, the four agencies would be the NPS, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (which operates federal marine sanctuaries). Nonetheless, the Yurok record in this area has been marked by controversy over lamprey fishing, killing salmon-eating sea lions (in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act) as well as plans to build an eco-lodge in the park.
“The danger in these arrangements is that politics tends to take precedence over resource protection,” added Ruch, pointing to the painful history of problems with tribal management at the National Bison Range, a century-old federal wildlife refuge in Montana. “The reason for a Yurok transfer is not to benefit the lands or the wildlife but to settle a political score.”
This gambit is one of a growing number of tribal overtures entangling nation parks. In August, PEER filed a complaint about park managers acceding to Indian requests to remove plants and cultural artifacts in violation of NPS regulations with the approval of NPS Director Jon Jarvis and strong support of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, which is also represented by Destry Jarvis.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER’s environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.