The Coquille Indian Tribe has gained approval to manage its forestlands entirely under tribal authority.

The tribe received formal federal approval last week for its Indian Trust Asset Management Plan, becoming the first federally recognized tribe to achieve that status. That puts the tribe in position to demonstrate the forest management wisdom learned and practiced by indigenous people from time immemorial.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to prove that we can manage a diverse, sustainable forest while generating revenue to meet our people’s needs,” said Coquille Chairman Brenda Meade. “We’re going to show people a better way to do things.”

The tribe owns 5,410 acres in 14 separate parcels of timberlands in eastern Coos County, according to the tribe’s website. Revenue from the forest is a crucial element of the Tribe’s annual budget, supporting health care, education and Elders services. Harvest of the tribe’s timber provides about 200 jobs for the local community and up to 3.6 million board feet of timber each year for local mills.

The Coquille Tribe has long been recognized for responsible, sustainable forestry, proudly maintaining certification by the Forest Stewardship Council. Darian Jarnaghan, the tribe’s natural resources director, said removing the need for federal review of projects gives the team greater flexibility and efficiency.

“Thanks to its willingness to be a trailblazer in utilizing this project, the Coquille Indian Tribe can now take control of its trust forest lands and resources and manage them in a way that meets their needs,” said Tara Katuk Sweeney, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.

Creation of the Indian Trust Asset Management Plan was made possible by the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act of 2016. That law created a new pathway to expanded self-determination for tribes willing to go through the rigorous process of creating a management plan. No other tribe has completed a plan.

“We pride ourselves, as a tribe and organization, in being bold and innovative,” said Mark Johnston, the tribe’s executive director. “Our FSC-certified forests have been a shining example of tribal forest management that show how timber management and conservation can coexist in balance.

“Being the first tribe to have an approved ITAMP is an honor and challenge that we take seriously, and we are well-prepared to carry the burden of going first.”

The Coquille Tribe began developing the plan in 2019 and submitted it for approval in June. Jarnaghan said the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided helpful feedback to assure the plan would hold up to legal scrutiny.

The plan was formalized in a teleconference signing ceremony last week, with the tribe represented by Chief Don Ivy.

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