Chairman’s Report

Potential Long Bell Land Acquisition Update

During the November 2023 General Council Meeting, Tribal Council was directed to appoint an ad hoc committee to explore the potential acquisition of nearly 90,000 acres in the heart of our reservation known as the Long Bell Tract. At our Jan.18, Tribal Council Meeting, six volunteers were appointed. In addition, the committee includes the Directors of the Culture and Heritage, Planning, Natural Resources, and Ambodat (Of the Water/Aquatics) Departments or their designees. Interested Tribal Council members are also invited to be participate. Planning Department Director Jared Hall has been informally appointed by members to lead the committee.

This most recent exploration of a possible acquisition dates back well over a year. The current owner, Green Diamond Resource Company, approached the Klamath Tribes in the months after the Bootleg fire to assess our interest. They made it clear at that initial meeting that their much smaller and completely burned Camp Six property would need to be sold before they would seriously consider selling the Long Bell Tract.

Not long afterward, the non-profit conservation organization Trust For Public Land (TPL) began speaking to the Klamath Tribes about potentially purchasing the Camp Six property to clear the way for the potential Long Bell sale. Having worked successfully with us on the Chiloquin School Yard Project, TPL made it clear that they wanted the Klamath Tribes to drive restoration efforts on the charred Camp Six lands. They also made sure we understood that, if a way could be found, they wanted the Klamath Tribes to ultimately regain ownership of both these pieces of our reservation.

At about the same time, the Catena Foundation (headed by Sam Walton) expressed interest in helping the Klamath Tribes acquire the Long Bell Tract. Specifically, Catena offered (if an “economic and restoration plan” could be agreed to) to match any funds put up by the Klamath Tribes for the purchase. As Chairman, I have pushed Mr. Walton for specifics about what Catena would want to see in such a plan. Although I haven’t heard anything objectionable in his responses, nothing is in writing, and details remain sparse.

In the months before the ad hoc committee was formed, Green Diamond sent draft “Option Agreements” to TPL and the Klamath Tribes. Basically, it is a right of first refusal for purchase; each of them contained language calling for an appraisal of value. In addition, the drafts contained “strike prices,” meaning the minimum value that the properties would need to appraise at before Green Diamond would stay in the agreements.

Tribal Council took one look at the strike price for Long Bell and set the document aside. We knew that there was no way the property was worth what the company was requiring as a minimum sales price and saw no reason to spend more time considering the draft agreement. TPL went ahead with an appraisal of the Camp Six property. Given that these lands are near each other, and even though Camp Six was devastated by the Bootleg Fire, we recognized that the appraisal of the smaller burned piece would tell us a lot about how Long Bell might appraise. As we suspected, the Camp Six appraisal came in way below what Green Diamond is asking. At this point, both option agreements were off the table.

On March 8, Green Diamond Vice President Mike Walters met with our ad hoc committee and local TPL leadership. VP Walters announced that Green Diamond planned to put the Camp Six property up for auction. He said that if the company is unable to obtain the price they want, they may get in touch with TPL to talk further. He also said it is possible that Green Diamond will simply hold onto the Long Bell Tract indefinitely.

I was left feeling that the company had never been serious about arriving at a fair price and was simply trying to see how much it could extract from the Klamath Tribes—given their understanding of our deep desire to have our reservation lands back under our protection. Although I tried to be respectful, I let the Vice President know that I felt the Klamath Tribes had put in a lot of time and effort because we had believed, apparently wrongly, that Green Diamond was acting in good faith. 

The ad hoc committee met again the following week. We agreed that we still have a few cards to play and that we won’t give up until we are certain there is no path forward. I expect there will be an update from the committee at a General Council Meeting later this year. Regardless of how this particular effort unfolds, I have zero doubt that the whole of the Klamath Indian Reservation will one day be back under our control and protection.    

Klamath Tribes Chief Medical Officer Leaves Employment

Tribal Council is deeply frustrated by the quality of medical care available to our members at our Tribal Clinic in Chiloquin and at our new Healing Place satellite facility in Klamath Falls. While we have, and have had, quality providers, we seem unable to keep them. Continuous turnover at high-level professional positions is impeding the establishment of first-rate health care for our people.

The February loss of our Chief Medical Officer (CMO) after little more than a year at the helm of our medical facilities was devastating news for Tribal Council to absorb. That critically important post took years to fill. The need for measurable progress attracting, and retaining, high-quality medical professionals is at the top of Tribal Council’s list of priorities.

Continuing Struggles to Stave Off Extinction of our c’waam and koptu

In a previous column I reported that Magistrate Judge Mark Clark had found overwhelmingly in favor of the Klamath Tribes in our 2022 lawsuit charging the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) with violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by allocating water to Reclamation Project farmers despite not having sufficient water to meet minimum spawning levels for our endangered fish. I also reported that his decision was being appealed to a U.S. District Judge. 

That appeal was decided on Feb. 7 and resulted in a complete victory by the Klamath Tribes. Judge Michael McShane affirmed that “the bottom line is that Reclamation’s ESA obligations required it to take all steps necessary to avoid jeopardizing the suckers, even if that meant allocating no water to Project irrigators” (2024:10).

Obviously, this ruling is important for many reasons. It is particularly critical to current debates between parties from the headwaters to the ocean over the coming contents of BOR’s new Operations Plan for Ews (Upper Klamath Lake). Ultimately, BOR’s new Operations Plan will be assessed by both U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with regard to c’waam and koptu and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with regard to Coho Salmon. Both Services will produce a Biological Opinion (BiOp) determining what impact the Operations Plan will have on endangered suckers and threatened salmon.

Both Judge Clark and Judge McShane could find in our favor because the previous USFWS BiOp explicitly set a minimum April 1elevation in Ews for spawning c’waam and koptu. At this point, it remains unclear whether the Klamath Tribes will succeed in getting that same biologically necessary minimum spawning elevation entered into the new USFWS BiOp. As I write, this battle is ongoing.     

Restoration Dollars

News outlets across the Northwest made much recently of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Department of Interior, the Karuk Tribe, the Yurok Tribe, the Klamath Water Users Association, and the Klamath Tribes. Basically, as an agreement to try to agree, the MOU paved the way for federal restoration dollars to begin pouring into our Klamath Basin ecosystem.

The Klamath Tribes have pushed tirelessly for a Basin-wide recognition that the only path forward for us, down river tribes, farming families, and all living things in our shared homeland is a restoration of some semblance of health to our ecosystem. There is simply no other alternative that does not end in some form of ecological, cultural, and economic collapse.

Toward that end, the Klamath Tribes have received $2.7 million dollars toward restoration of ewksi (Klamath Marsh). Our Ambodat (Of the Water/Aquatics) crew(s) will oversee and implement reconnection of floodplains, removal of detrimental irrigation infrastructure, ditches, drains, and levees that impede fish passage and the natural function of ewksi. I expect we will see more funds for this effort come our way.

We also received nearly a million dollars for continued work in the Bootleg Fire scar. These funds reflect the incredible success (in only one year!) of our restoration crew returning health to a section of Dry Creek and surrounding riparian areas. Before and after photos of dry, denuded stream banks erupting into lush grasses and watery stream banks lasting increasingly later into the summer are proof that our people know how to take care of our home. I have no doubt that this empirically obvious success will continue and grow ever more quickly as we add tribal members to our restoration efforts.