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In Landmark Approval, BIA Grants Coquille Tribe Autonomy Over Its Forest Lands

Brian Bull

A Native American tribe in Oregon has become the first in the U.S. to receive full authority to manage its forests.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the Coquille Tribe’s Indian Trust Asset Management Plan Tuesday (10/20). This grants it autonomy over its roughly 10,000 acres of trust forest land and resources…a first for any of the country’s 574 federally-recognized tribes.

Mark Johnston is Executive Director for the Coquille Indian Tribe.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Coquille Forest, January 2019.

“We’re just really excited about the opportunity to be first," he told KLCC.  "We respect the burden that that creates going first because you better do it right or you’ll mess it up for those folks that come behind you.

"And we know that we’re not going to be the only tribe that considers this, because of the value from a sovereignty perspective.”

Sovereignty – or self-governance – is a longstanding goal for tribes. And timber is an important resource for the Coquille.  Johnston said annual revenues support key programs, including tribal healthcare and education.

In a release, Darin Jarnaghan, the Coquille Tribe's natural resources director, says removing the need for federal review of projects gives his team greater flexibility and efficiency.  The work towards self-determination was enabled by the Indian Trust Asset Reform Act of 2016.  It created a new pathway towards increased self-determination for tribes willing to undertake the "rigorous process of creating the management plan."

Until now, no other tribe has succeeded in meeting that challenge.  Johnston credits the hard work of tribal members and leadership, in developing "responsible, sustainable forestry."  The tribe has also been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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