U.S. Forest Service Releases Tribal Action Plan

Mar 29, 2023 | Insights

On February 3, 2023, the United States Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS) released a new Tribal Action Plan titled “Strengthening Tribal Consultation and Nation-to-Nation Relationships.” The Plan aims to strengthen Tribal consultation through action in four focus areas:

  1. Strengthening relationships between Indian Tribes and the Forest Service
  2. Fulfilling trust and treaty obligations
  3. Enhancing co-stewardship of the Nation’s forests and grasslands
  4. Advancing Tribal relations within the Forest Service

The Plan The Plan outlines specific action items related to each of the focus areas to achieve the Forest Service’s goal of strengthening Tribal consultation.  The Plan does not intend to amend or establish new policies or directives, but to “provide a framework for advancing existing laws, regulations, and policies in the Forest Service…”

The Plan can be obtained here.

Focus Area 1: Strengthen Relationships Between Indian Tribes and the Forest Service

Under Focus Area 1, the USFS aims to enhance consultation, coordination, and collaboration with Tribes by:

  • Publishing an annual report on agency consultations for Tribal governments
  • Developing consultation protocols with Tribal officials and better aligning policy revision processes
  • Implementing Tribal relations directives outlined in USFS policies
  • Inviting Tribal staff to participate in interdisciplinary planning teams
  • Involving the Office of Tribal Relations director in redelegating consultation authority

The USFS also plans to expand communication by updating webpages to share Tribal connections to land, updating signage to include Tribal history and perspective, hiring a Tribal information officer, and promoting diversity and inclusivity. The agency will update policies and processes to incorporate new authorities, regulations, and policy direction.

Focus Area 2: Fulfill Trust and Treaty Obligations

Under Focus Area 2, the USFS will fulfill trust and treaty obligations by:

  • Developing protocols with Tribal officials for consultation on issues impacting Tribal lands, subsistence uses, treaty rights, sacred sites, and cultural resources
  • Consulting with Tribes in the Forest Plan Revision Process
  • Expanding the application of Indigenous Knowledge in managing agency lands
  • Improving protection of and access to sacred sites by reestablishing the Sacred Sites Team and evaluating current standards and guidelines for managing cultural-historic resources and areas of Tribal importance

Focus Area 3: Enhance Co-Stewardship of the Nation’s Forests and Grasslands

Under Focus Area 3, the USFS aims to advance Tribal stewardship of federal lands by:

  • Supporting the implementation of Joint Secretarial Order No. 3403 on “Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters”
  • Increasing equity and access for Tribes in other USFS programs and services
  • Identifying resources and opportunities to support co-stewardship

Focus Area 4: Advance Tribal Relations within the USDA Forest Service

Under Focus Area 4, the USFS plans to advance tribal relations by:

  • Monitoring, tracking, and reporting on pending legislation and policy with Tribal equities including maintaining a Legislative Affairs Liaison to the Office of Tribal Relations (OTR)
  • Establishing a process for technical assistance to develop legislative comments, proposed legislation, a process for input in the development of regulations, and processes for input in other policy statement or actions
  • Engaging Tribal youth through workforce development, recruitment, and educational products including indigenous perspectives
  • Increasing collaboration with interdepartmental and intradepartmental working groups and coalitions supporting Tribal initiatives
  • Growing agency and tribal capacity through training and cooperation, requiring staff to attend tribal relations training

Under the Plan the USFS will also implement reporting, accountability, and performance measures, including creating performance standard reviews and developing web-based tools that support nation Tribal relations information.  It also aims to improve tribal relations program configuration and staffing by changing the names of the State and Private Forestry Deputy Area to State, Private, and Tribal Forestry, establishing Tribal relation programs for all regions, ensuring tribal program management interests are represented in decision making processes.

Finally, the USFS aims to better implement existing executive orders, Presidential memoranda, and directives, including but not limited to, the Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients. To learn more about how we can assist your tribe, contact our Colorado office at 303-926-5292.