COOS BAY — The chairman of the Confederated Tribes said its proposed acquisition of more than 14,000 acres of federal timberlands will ultimately benefit Oregon timber counties.
The tribe could be the recipient of 14,500 acres of federal timberlands under a proposed transfer circulated for discussion this month by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Bob Garcia, chairman of the tribal council for the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, said its goal is long-term stewardship of culturally important lands.
“We believe our active management will put more people on the ground than are currently there,” Garcia said. “We’re talking more foresters, more biologists, people working on stream restorations.”
None of the lands under consideration for transfer are currently impacted by a federal injunction to protect marbled murrelet populations. “Our attempt was to try to find lands that were non-controversial.”
The chairman said the timberlands will be managed under a very similar model to that currently used in the status quo — including the completion of environmental impact statements.
“We’re talking about lands going from the Bureau of Land management to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, still within the federal government.”
One initial concern, raised by Association of O&C Counties President Doug Robertson, was that O&C counties would lose timberlands, potentially harming county revenue.
The lands in question currently fall under the O&C Act of 1937, which set aside millions of acres of timber land for economic activity in 18 Oregon counties. The act covers land reclaimed by the government in 1916 after the Oregon & California Railroad Company violated the terms of a federal grant.
In a statement Wednesday, Sen. Wyden committed to a no-net-loss policy regarding O&C lands, saying the total acreage will remain the same under any tribal land conveyance legislation
The difference, Garcia said, is that the land will receive much more active management under tribal control than it does under current federal forest planning. And that means more jobs.
The chairman said he believes the tribes and the O&C counties ultimately have similar intentions.
“We’re talking about how we can put people to work and how we can make Oregon counties prosper,” he said. “Tribal control is local control.”
Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.