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Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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The H&N view

published Nov. 12, 2003

Tribes face a large task on reservation

It's clear from the current round of meetings being held by the Klamath Tribes about re-establishing the Klamath Reservation that the tribes have major questions to answer. There are two more public meetings left in the schedule, and additional meetings will be be held after the Tribes' forest management plan is released. The plan is expected to be out in a matter of days.

Reaching a decision on the reservation will be a long process.

The questions we see - many of them being raised by people who live in or near the Winema National Forest - fall into these areas:

n Access: Would people whose land is surrounded by, or is near, Winema lands be able to get to their property? Would members of the general public be able to get to areas they've had access to as national forest land?

n Natural resources: Would there be more, or less, logging and grazing? Would water rights be affected? What are the game laws likely to be?

n Legal system: How would law en-forcement work on a reservation? How would it deal with non-tribal members?

n Financial impact: How would a reservation affect the Klamath County economy, and county government and school finances, since the county and the schools receive federal funds from national forests based on the amount of timber cut?

n Guarantees: What assurances would there be that the agreements made in re-establishing a reservation would be locked down?

In addition, the Tribes also have to prove their case. They have to convince the public - not just the political leaders and federal officials - that they have a reservation coming as a matter of fairness.

The Winema was created from reservation lands after the reservation was terminated in 1954. Tribal members were paid for the land, but the process and the payments are wrapped in controversy. Tribal members and others are convinced that tribal representatives were forced to sell the lands, and the amount paid didn't reflect the land's worth.

Even if the Tribes can demonstrate they were treated wrongly, they also have to make a convincing case that restoring the reservation is the proper answer.

Tribal standing was reinstated for the Klamath Tribes in 1986. That opened up a great deal of federal help for tribal members. But it didn't include land. In fact, if land had been part of the deal, it's unlikely that restoring tribal status would have had the support that it did.

In addition to talks between the Department of Interior and the Tribes about the reservation, there are more wide-ranging talks among the Tribes, federal officials, irrigators and others being conducted within a framework of trying to reach an overall solution to the Klamath Basin's water problems.

The Tribes have the oldest - and thus the highest priority - right to Basin water, but it hasn't been spelled out yet what that means in terms of quantity.

The questions may not be impossible to answer, but it will take time.

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