MIL-OSI USA: Murkowski Introduces Legislation Amending the Tribal Forest Protection Act to Work Better for All Tribes, Including in Alaska

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US Senate News:

Source: United States Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski

06.03.24

Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced S.4370, the Tribal Forest Protection Act Amendments Act of 2024, to promote greater indigenous stewardship of Federal and Indian forest and rangelands.

The 2004 TFPA law was intended to protect Indian forest lands and resources from various threats, including wildfires, by allowing Tribes to enter into agreements with the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to carry out forest management activities on federal lands that are “bordering or adjacent to” lands under tribal jurisdiction  In practical terms, the “bordering or adjacent to” requirement has proved too restrictive as it does not adequately capture the sites, features, cultural landscapes, sacred places or objects with cultural value to Native peoples that may be located on federal land that does not border Indian land. The law has also prevented Alaska Native Corporations, who received over 44 million acres of land from the federal government from participating in the TFPA program entirely. Senator Murkowski’s new legislation corrects the oversight and expands the original language, so that this program works better for all Indian Tribes as they work to combat threats to and restore land and resources. 

“The TFPA was meant to empower Tribes to take an active role to facilitate treatment and collaboration between the federal land management agencies and Indian Tribes to improve forest health. But the law was so narrowly written it excluded Alaska from fully participating and prevented Tribes across the country from being able to protect ancestral resources simply because they did not border tribal trust lands or resources. These are inequities that Congress has a responsibility to correct,” said Senator Murkowski. “It is time Alaska Tribes and Native Corporations have the opportunity to protect land and resources important to them, along with other Tribes across the country, regardless of whether those lands are in trust status or not or border a federal forest or rangeland. Wildfires and other threats do not care about land classifications or geographic connections like borders. My bill provides straightforward, meaningful changes that will go a long way to improve this program to work better for all.”

“There are literally thousands of years of wisdom in these amendments. Sealaska maintained title to a tiny fraction of our aboriginal territory, but our relationship with the entirety of the Tongass is ancient,” said Joe Nelson, Sealaska Chairman. “We are grateful for Senator Murkowski’s deep understanding of, and advocacy for, Aas Kwáani (the tree people). We appreciate the fact that she also knows this place as home.”

“The Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA) is important statutory authority which allows Tribes to carry out forest management projects on federal lands in order to protect Indian forest lands and rangelands from wildfire, disease, and other threats posed by federal lands. However, TFPA as currently authorized limits the scope of the federal lands that Tribes can effectively manage in furtherance of protecting Tribal lands and communities. Sen. Murkowski’s proposed legislation to amend the TFPA would ensure that the Act extends to Alaska Native lands, remove the requirement that covered Tribal lands must be adjacent to federal lands – a barrier undermining TFPA’s intent, expand program eligibility, and specifically authorize funding necessary to carry out TFPA activities. These amendments are critical to ensuring that Indian Country can more effectively work in partnership with USDA’s Forest Service to promote the health and well-being of federal and Indian forests and rangelands,” said Cole Miller (Chairman, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community) and Kari Jo Lawrence (CEO, Intertribal Agriculture Council), Co-Chairs of the Native Farm Bill Coalition.

Additional background:

The TFPA was originally enacted in 2004 as the Tribal companion bill to the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. The TFPA was most recently amended in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, to provide authority to the Forest Service to execute “638 agreements” to carry out TFPA projects. Senator Murkowski crafted the amendments in this bill based on direct feedback from Alaska Native leaders and stakeholders, given during multiple hearings and roundtables led by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The TFPA allows Tribes to perform forest management activities on federal lands within their territories, including prescribed thinning, burning, and restoration projects to enhance forest health and resilience. The bill also seeks to promote economic development and create new jobs within tribal communities through sustainable forest management practices.

For a one-pager on the bill, click here.


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