California redwood forest returned to Native American tribes: NPR
Max Forster / Save the League of Redwoods
A conservation group returns guardianship of hundreds of acres of redwood forests to a coalition of native tribes who were displaced from the land generations ago by European American settlers.
Save the Redwoods League purchased the 523-acre area (known as Andersonia West) on California’s Mendocino County Lost Coast in July 2020. It announced on Tuesday that it had donated and transferred ownership of ownership to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a consortium of 10 Northern California tribal nations focused on environmental and cultural preservation.
The forest will be renamed “Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ” – meaning “fishing ground” in the Sinkyone language – as “an act of cultural empowerment and a celebration of indigenous resilience”, the league said in a statement. . The Tribal Council has granted him a conservation easement, which means that the use of the land will be limited for his own protection.
“Renaming the property Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ lets people know that it’s a sacred place, it’s a place for our Native Americans. It lets them know there was a language and there was a people who lived there long before today,” said Crista Ray, a tribal citizen of the Scotts Valley Pomo Indian Band and member of the Sinkyone Council Board of Directors She is of Eastern Pomo, Sinkyone, Cahto, Wailaki and other ancestors.
How the transaction went
The league’s purchase of the forest in 2020 cost $3.55 million and was fully funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (the utility, which has been the source of several deadly forest fires, argues habitat conservation programs to mitigate other environmental damage it has caused).
PG&E reimbursed the league and the board for “preparing transaction costs and the management plan,” the statement added, and provided an endowment of $1.13 million to support the zone’s ongoing management.
The Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ facility supports the utility’s 30-year conservation goals, which the league says were developed in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency also approved the property’s long-term management and stewardship plan.
What their conservation efforts will entail
Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is home to centuries-old trees, significant bodies of water, and a variety of endangered species.
It consists of 200 acres of ancient coast redwoods and 1.5 miles of Anderson Creek, a creek and tributary of the South Fork Eel River.
“Second-growth redwoods, Douglas firs, tanoaks, and madrones also tower over a lush understory of blueberries, elderberries, manzanitas, and ceanothus,” as the league describes. This habitat is home to endangered species like the northern spotted owl, rainbow trout, coho salmon, marbled murrelet and yellow-legged frog.
The council and the league say their partnership will protect the environment by preventing habitat loss, commercial logging, construction and other development.
They plan to draw on a blend of indigenous principles of place-based land trusteeship, conservation science, climate adaptation and fire resistance concepts to heal and preserve the area.
“We believe the best way to permanently protect and heal this land is through tribal stewardship,” said Sam Hodder, resident and CEO of Save the Redwoods League. “In this process, we have the opportunity to restore balance to the ecosystem and the communities connected to it, while accelerating the pace and scale of conserving California’s iconic redwood forests.”
Why Indigenous Guardianship Matters
Those involved in the partnership emphasize that it is not just the protection of the land that matters, it is also the restoration of the property to the descendants of its original inhabitants.
Notably, the Sinkyone Council has designated Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ as a Tribal Protected Area.
“This designation recognizes that this place is within the traditional territory of Sinkyone, that for thousands of years it has been and remains an area of significance to the Sinkyone people, and that it is of great cultural significance to the Sinkyone Council and its member tribes,” said Priscilla Hunter, a tribal citizen of the Coyote Valley Pomo Indian Band and Chairperson of the Sinkyone Council, who is of Northern Pomo and Coast Yuki ancestry.
It joins an additional 180,000 acres of conserved land along the Sinkyone coast, according to the release notes. The council hopes the acquisition will continue to expand the network of adjacent protected lands with similar ecosystems and cultural histories.
This will enable the tribes to “achieve broader landscape-level and regional-level protections informed by the cultural values and understanding of these places”, according to Hawk Rosales, a former executive director of the council who is of Ndéh ancestry. (Apache).
Land donation can be contextualized as part of the broader “land reclamation” movement, an intersectional effort to return Indigenous lands—and autonomy—to Indigenous communities, especially public lands like national parks. Research shows that forced relocation and loss of historic lands have made Native Americans more vulnerable to climate change.
And it’s not the first time the league has donated land to Sinkyone Council – it donated 164 acres of nearby redwoods in 2012, marking the first time Save the Redwoods have struck a deal conservation with a tribal entity.
Indigenous peoples around the world play a key role in environmental stewardship. According to a 2021 UN policy brief, they make up around 5% of the world’s population, but actually manage around 20% to 25% of the landmass. Much of their land is in areas that are home to 80% of the planet’s biodiversity and around 40% of protected land.
This story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog.