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Tribes field raft of questions

published Nov. 11, 2003

Neighbors say they're still looking for information


BEATTY - Officials from the Klamath Tribes tried Monday night to answer questions about returning national forest land to the tribes for a reservation.

"We are up here to try to make a deal and sell this to you," tribal Vice Chairman Joe Hobbs said at a meeting of about 125 people at the Beatty Community Center.

But many who live near or within the 690,000 acres in question left the meeting saying their concerns weren't addressed.

While the U.S. Forest Service has managed the land to produce trees, the Tribes want to manage the land to the benefit of all of its resources, Hobbs said.

Chairman Allen Foreman said the Tribes will soon produce its forest management plan. He said it will outline what the Tribes want to do with the forests and how they will do it. He said the Tribes would be subject to legislative regulations in following their plan and use taxpayer money to fund many of the projects.

Many of Foreman's explanations led to more questions.

"There are a multitude of questions out there that need to be answered," he said.

Many in the crowd questioned whether the Tribes could do a better job managing the forests than the federal government.

Among the questions that audience members said weren't answered: What fees would be charged for access to reservation land and resources, how much federal money would go to support reservation management and whether the tribal government would be accountable to the federal government for managing the forest?

Judy Criswell, who has lived in Chiloquin for ten years, said many of the Tribes' answers weren't specific enough for her to understand what the Tribes wanted to do.

Criswell has 135 acres bordered on three sides by national forest.

"You have to offer something to make us want to do this, we all own this - you all and us," she told Foreman, who is her neighbor.

She said the Tribes need to give out more information about what the regulations on the land will be.

"It's like getting a speeding ticket when they just put the sign up behind you," Criswell said. "I need information to make an intelligent decision."

She said she thinks the Tribes really want to improve things for the good of the land.

"But I don't think they can do better than the federal government," she said.

Foreman started the meeting with a review of history.

He showed the crowd a map of the lands that were home to the Klamaths, the Modocs and the Yahooskin Band of the Snake Tribe. The 22 million acres, which looked like a big stocking, stretched from Bend to Lakeview to the east edge of the Cascades down into California, with Mount Shasta at the big toe.

Foreman said the Tribes had a self-sustained economy, built on large stands of ponderosa pine, but lost it when the federal government terminated the Tribes and abolished the reservation in 1954.

"During the termination they took the thing that made us so successful - the land base we depended so much on," he said.

At the meeting, many in the crowd questioned whether the members of the Tribes received money for the land, and, thus, why the government should give back land it paid for, the question of whether the Tribes voted to have the Tribes terminated.

Ed Bartell of Sprague River, president of the Resource Conservancy, said he has found documents in the national achieve, showing the members of the Tribes voted to end federal recognition of the tribes and to sell the land.

"This community is being destroyed by what you are trying to do," he said.

Foreman disagreed with that interpretation.

"They are interpreting the records to say what they want to say," Foreman said.

He said the federal government gave the Tribes the option of taking money for lost assets, such as the timber on their former reservation, or getting nothing at all. He said it was not understood to be a payment for the land.

Jeff Wessel, who has a 3,000-acre ranch near Bly, said there is a lot of miscommunication between the Tribes and people who live near the possible reservation.

He said both groups were bringing up gripes about the past to hurl at each other during the meeting.

"I know we are all digging deep in our pockets to find stones to throw at each other," he said.

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