FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Cody Desautel, Brian Gunn, Andy Joseph, Jr., Sec. Deb Haaland, (pictured in the middle) along with her Staff all met on March, 30 to discuss a number of topics.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Cody Desautel, Brian Gunn, Andy Joseph, Jr., Sec. Deb Haaland, (pictured in the middle) along with her Staff all met on March, 30 to discuss a number of topics.

On March, 30 2022, the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland met with CBC Chair Andy Joseph, Jr., Acting Executive Director Cody Desautel, and Brian Gunn, Washington, D.C. counsel. There were three topics of discussion: Wildfires, Fee-To-Trust Applications, and Regulating Authority on Lake Roosevelt by the Spokane Tribe and Colville Tribes.

Since 2015, the Colville Tribes’ lost more than one billion board feet of timber as 700,000 acres of the 1.4-million acre reservation burned. Severity Funding is available to Indian tribes through the BIA Northwest Regional Office. The national goal is to be able to contain 97% of all fires, while 3% may end up being large fires.

The Colville Indian Reservation sees 100-150 fires per year. Severity funding allows for increased suppression response capability in advance of predicted high fire danger conditions or events. The funding would allow for more personnel, resources and overtime funding. The decisions are not  always timely or approved.

The Tribes requested additional funding for staffing capacity needed for fire suppression and fuels management, and approval of all severity funding requests submitted by Tribes ahead of the 2022 Fire Season.

Prescribed burns are necessary to burn the fuels on the ground and reduce the risk and severity of large fires. Currently, the BIA policy requires tribes to put out all human-caused fires regardless of the fuel reduction benefits, or the traditional ecological knowledge about the appropriate time and place to use burning.

Prescribed burns take a lot of planning to determine the appropriate fuel and weather conditions, as well as coordination with other Tribal programs and outside agencies. The window of favorable conditions in the fall and spring is typically very small. The request was made for the Department of Interior, in consultation with tribes, to relax the restrictions on prescribed burns to allow tribes to make their forests more resilient to wildfire events.

The third request was for the Department of the Interior to clarify that the BIA Superintendent possess authority to decide on-reservation Fee-To-Trust applications, and that the Department examine workforce issues in BIA Realty and prepare a plan to address the training needs. 

Another important topic of discussion is the Authority to Regulate on Lake Roosevelt by the Colville and Spokane Tribes. Each year, Lake Roosevelt has 1.5 million visitors. The CCT Natural Resources Enforcement Officers patrol on the lake to ensure tribal laws and codes are being followed, and to help with Search & Rescue requests.

They patrol from Grand Coulee Dam all the way to the Canadian Border on Lake Roosevelt. In 2015, a draft rule was submitted by the Tribes, but the Department of the Interior was unable to begin the rule-making process in time for a rule to be finalized before the end of the Obama Administration. The Colville and Spokane Tribes have no formal request with the Secretary at this time, but will be submitting a formal request with the secretary to initiate this rulemaking in the coming months.

Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary and Senior Spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary offered that, “It is a priority for Secretary Haaland and the entire Department to fulfill federal trust and treaty responsibilities, bolster the nation-to-nation relationship, and ensure that Tribal communities have the resources and support they need to address the climate crisis while creating jobs and economic revitalization opportunities. As we look to implement investments that will directly help Indigenous communities, Secretary Haaland takes our commitment to strengthening Tribal sovereignty and self-governance seriously.”

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