Yurok Tribe Seeks to Reclaim Part of Redwood National Park

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2010 (ENS) – California’s largest Indian tribe is seeking federal legislation that would transfer portions of Redwood National Park, Six Rivers National Forest and marine sanctuary waters off northern California to be managed as a tribal park, according to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The lands at issue lie along the West coast where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Draft legislation sent to the National Park Service by a lobbyist for the Yurok Tribe would award the tribe title to and/or management authority over thousands of acres of federal lands.

The mouth of the Klamath River (Photo by Phil Williamson)

The lands include 1,200 acres of Redwood National Park; 1,400 acres of the Six Rivers National Forest, now set aside as an old growth preserve; and Redding Rock, a sea stack five miles offshore, together with joint management of surrounding federal marine sanctuary waters.

The bill also would appropriate $50 million in federal funds to purchase nearby private lands for the Yurok Tribe.

The tribe’s lobbyist and point person for the deal is T. Destry Jarvis, a Clinton-era Interior Department appointee and older brother of current National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

In a May 21, 2010 email to Redwood National Park Superintendent Steve Chaney obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, T. Destry Jarvis says the lands at issue lie within the Yurok Reservation, “and have done so for over a century – and certainly for long before there was a Redwood National Park.”

“The Tribe’s position is that these lands appropriately should be owned (in Trust) and managed by the Tribe as a key element of their ancestral homeland where their ancestors resided for thousands of years,” the Jarvis email says. “As the draft bill plainly states, the Tribe will manage these lands as tribal park, fully compatibly and cooperatively with NPS.”

T. Destry Jarvis acknowledged that the draft bill goes beyond previous land transfers of park lands to tribes and will require “signoff from higher levels of NPS and DOI,” according to the May 21 email.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch is opposed to the Yurok proposal, commenting that the legislative effort is taking place “behind the scenes.”

“These lands are held in common for all citizens of the U.S., including the Yuroks, and that is the way they should stay,” said Ruch. “This would be an unprecedented and unjustified giveaway of treasured public resources.”

The lands were once part of the Yurok ancestral homeland, and remain important to the tribe, Ruch acknowledges, however, he says, “the same can be said for most national park lands which have similar histories.”

Established in 1968, expanded in 1978, Redwood National Park now encompasses 75,452 acres, protecting some of the tallest trees on Earth, including 19,640 acres of old growth forest.

“The danger in these arrangements is that politics tends to take precedence over resource protection,” said Ruch. “The reason for a Yurok transfer is not to benefit the lands or the wildlife but to settle a political score.”

“This gambit is one of a growing number of tribal overtures entangling national parks,” said Ruch.

In August, PEER filed a complaint about park managers acceding to Indian requests to remove plants and cultural artifacts in violation of NPS regulations with the approval of NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis and strong support of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, which is also represented by T. Destry Jarvis.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.