On Wednesday (11-29-22), the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced that it has signed 11 co-stewardship agreements with thirteen tribes as part of the agency’s commitment to protect tribal interests in the lands they value as part of their culture and history. These agreements are in response to Joint Secretarial Order 3404, which directs agencies under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior to ensure their decisions and activities on public lands fulfill the unique trust obligations with federally recognized tribes and their citizens.
The Forest Service is entrusted with managing more than 193 million acres of land and waters that are the traditional territory previously managed by Tribes for thousands of years. These lands are home to sacred religious and burial sites, wildlife, and other sources of indigenous foods and medicines. Much of these lands are in areas where Tribes have reserved rights to hunt, fish, gather, and practice their traditional ceremonies based on ratified treaties and agreements with the federal government.
In addition to the 11 co-stewardship agreements announced, there are 60 more co-stewardship agreements in various stages of review involving 45 Tribes.
Federally recognized Tribes are sovereign nations with long-standing government-to-government relationships with the federal government. Tribal co-stewardship agreements like those being announced promote an approach to managing national forests and grasslands that seeks to protect the treaty, religious, subsistence, and cultural interests of federally recognized Indian Tribes. The agreements reflect a wide array of tribal interests and include caring for forest and watershed health, restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, integrating traditional knowledge into land management decision-making, and protecting cultural resources, treaty rights, wildlife habitat, food sovereignty and ceremonial and traditional activities.
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