Tribal Government & News

Tribe regains more rights in management of its natural resources

JOSEPH - The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission unanimously approved the Grand Ronde Tribe's Fish and Wildlife Management Plan and a new administrative rule that gives the Tribe control over the take of fish and wildlife on Reservation and trust lands during its Friday, Sept. 5, meeting held in the Joseph Community Center.
By adopting the Tribe's Fish & Wildlife Management Plan, the state commission delegated its authority to the Tribe to be exercised on Reservation and trust lands in accordance with the provisions outlined in the management plan.
The new permanent plan replaces an interim plan that the Tribe has been managing its lands under.
"It was a very historic moment for the Tribe," said Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno during the Sept. 7 General Council meeting. "We will now manage our own Reservation. It's something that hasn't been done before. .. It says a lot for our Tribe. It says a lot for our leadership because it is also the recovery of some of our sovereignty that was taken away from us 60 years ago. This is something that very few Tribes ever get to do. It was a huge day for Grand Ronde … a monumental time for our Tribe."
Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Barbara "Bobby" Levy said she was very supportive of passage of the Tribal management plan and new administrative rule. She said she recalled visiting the Grand Ronde Reservation in 2007 and how impressed she was with the natural resources management.
Tribal representatives and Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife employees collaborated to create the Tribal management plan.
"The details of the management plan represent a shared vision of our goals for the described species, and will establish criteria by which the Tribe will further allocate the harvest authorized," an ODFW analysis states.
The new administrative rule authorizes the take of species and number of animals, recognizing that the Tribe has authority over its members and Reservation and trust lands to impose additional limits on the authorized take to accomplish the goals of its management plan. The rule also provides additional tags to the Tribe outside of the state-issued regular and ceremonial hunting tags already allocated to the membership.
For instance, the new rule authorizes the taking of up to 200 each of Columbian black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk, 50 each of cougar and bear, 100 each of Pacific lamprey, spring Chinook and Coho, and 100 bobcats. The Tribe will manage the harvest conservatively under the limits, Tribal Biologist Lindsay Belonga said.
Although the state commission is prohibited from delegating its authority to authorize the take of wildlife, the rule provides for Tribal sovereignty by setting the maximum numbers high.
"The number of animals identified … is likely much higher than the number of animals that are available for harvest on the lands to which this proposal applies, which is only the Tribe's Reservation and trust lands," the ODFW analysis states. "Staff expects that with the reporting requirements and several years of experience, we will be able to predict the actual numbers likely to be taken in a given year. Even if all the allowed numbers were harvested, though, staff does not believe that a biological problem would result."
The Tribe will report the actual take to the state Fish & Wildlife Department by Jan. 30 of each year.
Leno, Tribal Council Vice Chair Jack Giffen Jr., Tribal Council Secretary Toby McClary, Tribal Council member Ed Pearsall, Tribal Attorney Rob Greene, Natural Resources Department Manager Michael Wilson, Tribal Fish and Wildlife Program Manager Kelly Dirksen, Belonga, Tribal Planner Rick George and Spirit Mountain Community Fund Director Kathleen George attended the commission meeting held in eastern Oregon.
"Since 1983, the Tribe has devoted much of its time to natural resources and takes pride in the sustainable management of our most valuable resources looking forward seven generations," Leno said in his testimony before the commission.
"Our Fish and Wildlife Plan is the product of a collaborative dialogue and exchange of ideas between the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Department and Grand Ronde. Grand Ronde considers ODFW to be a partner in its efforts to improve wildlife habitat and implement management rules that will ensure our grandchildren and their children can hunt, fish and enjoy the woods and fields of our Reservation and state."
"The Tribe's management plan also covers habitat and how the improvement of wildlife habitat is an important goal for the Tribe," Greene said. "Fish and Wildlife officials also said on Friday how the Grand Ronde Tribe has been a great partner."
The commission's decision is another significant step in the Tribe regaining sovereignty over its lands. The Tribe lost its hunting and fishing rights when it was forced to sign a 1986 consent decree while seeking state support for the Grand Ronde Reservation Act, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Tribal Council member Cheryle A. Kennedy said the Tribe has been working on regaining its lost sovereignty since signing the consent decree.
"I served on that first council when the consent decree was signed," Kennedy said at the Sept. 7 General Council meeting. "It was very heart-rending to go through all of the hearings, to go through a lot of hell that was raised during those times. … To be here and serve on council when a lot of this is turned around … the consent decree isn't done away with, but we sure have made a lot of headway in regaining a lot of our rights."
Kennedy said Tribal Council and Tribal staff persevered through many personnel changes at the state.
"It is a wonderful, wonderful thing that has been accomplished," she said.
Greater Tribal control over Reservation and trust lands has been in the works since 2007 when then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a proclamation with the Tribe instructing state employees to work with Tribal representatives on the necessary government-to-government agreements.
In April 2008, the state Fish & Wildlife Commission approved an administrative rule that gave the Tribe ceremonial harvesting rights for big game. At the same time, the commission adopted a resolution recognizing the shared common views between the state and the Tribe regarding wise stewardship of fish and wildlife resources.
The resolution also directed state staff to work with the Grand Ronde Tribe in completing a permanent Fish and Wildlife Management Plan.
Tribal Council adopted the management plan and agreed to the administrative rule on Sept. 3.
"The Tribe and Tribal members will assume the lead role in implementing the management plan on Tribal lands," Leno said. "This is a point of immense pride to me and other Tribal members, especially our Elders, who have dedicated their lives to rebuilding our community and instilling in our children a deep commitment to stewardship of our lands and the wildlife on those lands."
Natural Resources Department employees are scheduled to make a presentation about the new agreement during the General Council meeting being held Sunday, Oct. 5, in the Tribal Community Center.