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Lava Beds re-designation effort resuming

TULELAKE — Efforts to re-designate Lava Beds National Monument as a national park are being revived, with a focus on greater involvement with the Klamath Tribes and, if possible, the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma and California Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

During a Saturday meeting in Tulelake, four Modocs from the Klamath Tribes — which includes Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Indians — attended as individuals to learn more about the re-designation effort and possible impacts on tribal sites.

No representatives from the Oklahoma tribe or LaMalfa’s office attended. Blake Follis, a member of the Oklahoma tribe, has voiced opposition in letters. LaMalfa, R-Richvale, Calif., whose congressional district includes Modoc and Siskiyou counties, has likewise not supported the proposal.

Elizabeth Norton, who has headed the group seeking national park status, said efforts to gain support from regional Indian tribes, LaMalfa and other politicians is continuing. She believes others, including California Senators Barbara Boxer and Kamala Harris, will back re-designation if tribal support is achieved.

Spokesmen for LaMalfa along with some Tulelake Basin residents previously expressed concerns a park status change might result in expansion of the nearby Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The two monuments are administered by the same staff but are separate sites. Norton noted a recently released Tule Lake Unit management plan does not include expanding the Unit’s boundaries.

Taylor Tupper, Rayson Tupper, Clayton Dumont and Loren “Buzz” Kirk, all of Modoc descent with the Klamath Tribes, emphasized they were attending as individuals. During discussions they suggested the group, informally named the Lava Beds National Monument Redesignation Project Committee, discuss the re-designation effort with the tribal and elders councils. A meeting with the groups may be scheduled in August. A decision on whether the Klamath Tribes will support the change requires approval from the tribal council.

Cheewa James, a Modoc of Oklahoma tribal member, who also emphasized she was speaking as an individual, and Craig Dorman, Lava Beds’ superintendent from 1993 to 2007, both expressed beliefs a change in status would positively address tribal concerns, such as protection of culturally significant sites.

Dorman, who is retired from the National Park Service and is not a Redesignation Project Committee member, said Lava Beds was designated as a National Historic Archeological Site in 1984.

“New efforts would be appropriate,” he said of previous projects that failed because of lack of tribal response, including a Modoc Village. Dorman noted when Channel Islands was re-designated as a national park in 1980 visitation increased and cooperative agreements with other agencies expanded.

James, who recently visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, said Native groups are highly involved in management planning and operations.

“I feel if there are things to need to be corrected, why wouldn’t they correct them,” said James, who worked as a seasonal ranger at Lava Beds for two years.

Of special concern to the Klamath and Modoc of Oklahoma tribes has been vandalism at Petroglyph Point. In his letters, Follis has expressed fears increased visitation could lead to increased damage of cultural sites.

Angela Sutton, Lava Beds’ acting chief of interpretation, said major vandalism incidents are relatively unusual, with incidents one or two times every three or four years. She noted the monument follows detailed protection procedures.

Increased visitation is a goal of re-designation. Along with cultural history from Native use, Lava Beds was where key battles of the 1872-73 Modoc War and is the site of more than 700 lava tube caves.

Based on projections, Jim Chadderdon, a committee member and executive director for Discover Klamath, said national park status could increase annual visitation, now about 135,000 a year, by 1,350 to 2,700 a year, which potentially could benefit the financially struggling Tulelake Basin economy.

“While Lava Beds is in California, it’s in the greater Klamath Basin,” he said, noting many travelers would use services in Klamath Falls.

“It really has an array of attributes that make it suitable to be a national park,” Norton said.

Norton said talks with staff for LaMalfa indicate the congressman is concerned about increased costs if Lava Beds becomes a national park, but monument staff have previously said no such increases are envisioned.

LaMalfa also reportedly wants a cultural museum, something Norton suggested might be done in cooperation with the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fair, which already has a regional history museum on the Tulelake fairgrounds.


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