New Interior Guidance to Strengthen Role of Tribes in Federal Land Management

Sep 29, 2022 | Insights

On September 13, 2022, three agencies within the Department of the Interior released new guidance intended to improve federal land stewardship by strengthening the role on Indian tribes in federal land management.  The agencies include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The new guidance is based on Joint Secretarial Order No. 3403 that was released by Interior and the United States Department of Agriculture during the White House Tribal Nations Summit held in November 2022.  The Joint Secretarial Order was directed at “Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters.”

The BLM guidance provides that, “Upon request by a Tribe, the BLM will meet and consult regarding co-stewardship opportunities and evaluate proposals submitted by Tribes….”  The BLM guidance also provides that “In some circumstances, it is also acceptable to make a decision to approve an action contingent on the concurrence of a Tribe as long as there is a reasonable connection between the Tribe’s jurisdiction, interests, and citizens and the BLM’s decision.”

The NPS guidance promotes a “broad umbrella of working relationships” with Indian tribes.  To facilitate this, NPS will engage in co-stewardship activities where NPS lands are adjacent to tribal lands and waters, and where tribes have an interest in federal lands and waters. Furthermore, NPS will provide competency training to their employees to further facilitate collaboration.

Similar to the NPS guidance, the FWS guidance seeks to promote co-stewardship where Federal lands and waters are located within or adjacent to federally recognized Tribal lands or traditional territories or where tribes have interests in non-adjacent Federal lands or waters.  FWS also commits to providing additional resources necessary to facilitate tribal co-stewardship.

The BLM, NPS, and FWS guidance include common goals and themes coming from the Joint Secretarial Order.  For example, all three agencies commit to incorporating Indigenous Knowledge in their decision-making.  The BLM guidance is available here.  The NPS guidance is available here.  The FWS guidance is available here.

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP works with tribes and federal agencies to develop agreements that increase tribal rights and management over federal lands.  To learn more about how we can assist your tribe, contact attorney Jeremy Patterson in our Colorado office at (303) 926-5292.