Washington – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service today published an action plan that outlines steps the agency will take to advance tribal consultation and strengthen Nation-to-Nation relationships with federally recognized Tribes.
“Strengthening Tribal Consultations and Nation-to-Nation Relationships: A USDA Forest Service Action Plan” recognizes the role tribal governments play in decision-making about Forest Service-managed lands and waters through co-stewardship, consultation, capacity-building, and by other means.
“This is more than a document. This action plan solidifies a pivotal moment in our agency’s history. The Forest Service manages millions of acres of lands, including ancestral homelands of American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Nations. We acknowledge the tragic history involving the forced displacement of Indigenous People and recognize that upholding our federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations is a responsibility and an ongoing journey for our agency.” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “When we acknowledge this history and work to ensure our actions and investments are reflective of our commitment to a better future, we can build trust and repair relationships with Tribes.
“National forests and grasslands often include ancestral homelands that Tribes have stewarded for centuries. Indigenous Nations are a key partner in how we value, co-manage, and steward our Nation’s grasslands and forests. Understanding the perspective and wisdom of Indigenous people gives us an opportunity to reflect on our policies, programs, and practices, the real-life implications they have on Indigenous peoples, and what role we can play in rectifying historical or ongoing issues. With this plan as a guide, Forest Service employees will begin to implement a new way of working that will build trust and create innovative opportunities with Tribal Nations.”
The plan also emphasizes the agency’s unique, shared responsibility to ensure that decisions relating to federal stewardship of lands, waters, and wildlife include consideration of how to safeguard the treaty rights and spiritual, subsistence, and cultural interests of any federally recognized Tribe.
As part of this work, the Forest Service has renamed the State & Private Forestry deputy chief area to State, Private & Tribal Forestry to emphasize our commitment.
The action plan provides a framework for advancing existing laws, regulations, and policies and is not intended to amend or establish new Forest Service policy or direction. Rather, the plan provides steps that can be implemented through existing programs and processes based on four focus areas:
- Strengthen Relationships Between Indian Tribes and the USDA Forest Service.
- Fulfill Trust and Treaty Obligations.
- Enhance Co-Stewardship of the Nation’s Forests and Grasslands.
- Advance Tribal Relations Within the USDA Forest Service.
On our commitment to “Enhance Co-Stewardship of the Nation’s Forests and Grasslands,” during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes underscored the progress the Forest Service is making in the implementation of the Joint Secretarial Order on Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters (Order No. 3403), a policy framework to facilitate agreements with Tribes in the co-stewardship of federal lands and waters.
To date, the agency has signed 11 new agreements with 13 Tribes, involving eight National Forests, agreements that include a collective investment of approximately $4.1 million in FY22. These co-stewardship agreements, along with 60 others involving 45 tribes in various stages of review, represent a Forest Service FY22 investment of approximately $19.8 million in our shared commitment to advancing co-stewardship with tribes. The agreements also reflect an agency commitment to include consideration of how to safeguard the treaty, spiritual, subsistence, and cultural interests of any Indian Tribe by ensuring tribal governments play an integral role in decision-making related to the management of federal lands and waters through consultation, capacity-building, and other means consistent with applicable authority.
“The U.S. and Tribal Nations are working together to create more realistic and progressive relationships that honor and respect tribal sovereignty,” said Reed Robinson, director of the Forest Service Office of Tribal Relations.
“We are witnessing significant growth of American Indian & Alaska Native populations, cultural expression and ownership, and economic development. This moment is critical for Forest Service employees to lead from where they are, to acknowledge, plan, take consequential actions, and step through the aperture of opportunity that, right now, is wider than any other time in history.”