Forest Service, Nez Perce Tribe Sign Deal On Idaho Forests

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Nez Perce Tribe and U.S. Forest Service have signed an agreement allowing the two to team up on projects in the 6,250-square-mile (16,000-square-kilometer) Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in north-central Idaho.

The Forest Service said Wednesday that the agreement through the Good Neighbor Authority will initially focus on fuels reduction projects to reduce wildfire threats.

Plans include heritage surveys and other projects important to the federally-recognized tribe on lands it ceded to the U.S. in the 1800s. Tribal members retain hunting, fishing and gathering rights on the ceded lands.

The Good Neighbor Authority allows the Forest Service to enter into agreements with states, counties and tribes to collaborate on restoration work on Forest Service land. It was launched in 2001 and expanded in 2018 to include tribes and counties.

The Nez Perce agreement is the first tribal agreement in the Forest Service’s Northern Region, which includes national forests in northern Idaho, Montana and northeastern Washington. The region also includes national grasslands in North Dakota and South Dakota.

“The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests are among the homelands of the Nez Perce Tribe and we share a common interest in healthy and resilient ecosystems,” said Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Supervisor Cheryl Probert in a statement. “The Good Neighbor Authority is a great tool for helping us co-steward these important lands.”

The tribe manages about 90 square miles (230 square kilometers) of forest on its reservation in north-central Idaho that generates income for essential tribal government services.

“The Nez Perce Tribe has been a steward of its land and resources since time immemorial,” said Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Samuel N. Penney in a statement. “The GNA agreement is an affirmation of the Tribe’s expertise in managing our homelands and is an additional intergovernmental tool to improve watershed health for fish and wildlife habitat, treat insect-infected and disease-infected trees, and reduce hazardous fuels.”

Idaho has also partnered with the U.S. Forest Service under the Good Neighbor Authority for logging and restoration projects, signing the first agreement in 2016. The program allows state participation in federal timber sales to pay for restoration work on private, state and federal lands.