Native American tribes reclaim California redwood land for preservation | Native Americans

Descendants of Native American tribes on California’s North Coast are reclaiming some of their ancestral homeland, including ancient redwood trees that have existed since their ancestors walked the earth.

Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit conservation group, announced on Tuesday that it is transferring more than 500 acres (202 hectares) on the Lost Coast to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council.

The group of 10 tribes that have inhabited the area for thousands of years will be responsible for protecting the land dubbed Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ, or “Fish Run Place” in the Sinkyone language.

Priscilla Hunter, the council chairwoman of Sinkyone, said it was fitting that they were guardians of the land where her people were expelled or forced to flee before the forest was largely stripped for timber.

“It’s a real blessing,” said Hunter, of the Coyote Valley Pomo Indian Band. “It’s like healing for our ancestors. I know our ancestors are happy. It has been given to us to protect.

The transfer marks a step in the growing Land Back movement to return Indigenous homelands to the descendants of those who lived there for millennia before the arrival of European settlers. In 2020, the Esselen Tribe of Northern California regained more than 1,000 acres of their ancestral homeland thanks to a $4.5 million deal involving the state and an Oregon conservation group. Such arrangements have become more common in recent years, allowing land and wildlife conservation.

The league first worked with Sinkyone’s council when it transferred nearby 164 acres (66 hectares) of land to the group in 2012.

The league recently paid $37 million for a scenic five-mile stretch of rugged, off-limits Lost Coast to a lumber company to protect it from logging and eventually open it to the public.

Opening up public access is not a priority over ownership transferred to the tribal group because it is so remote, said league president and CEO Sam Hodder. But it serves as an important puzzle piece wedged between other protected areas.

Steep hills rise and fall to a tributary of the Eel River that is home to rainbow trout and coho salmon. The property was last mined approximately 30 years ago and still has a large number of old growth redwoods as well as second growth trees.

“It’s a property where you can almost tangibly feel it healing, recovering,” Hodder said. “You walk through the forest and while you see the kind of ghostly stumps of ancient trees that have been harvested, you can also see in the misty landscape the monsters that have been left behind as well as the young redwoods growing. of these strains.”

The league bought the land two years ago for $3.5 million funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Co to provide habitat for the endangered northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet to mitigate other environmental damage caused by the utility.

PG&E was scheduled to be released from five years of criminal probation on Tuesday for a 2010 explosion triggered by its natural gas lines that blew up a San Bruno neighborhood and killed eight people. He has been accused since 2017 of starting more than 30 wildfires that have wiped out more than 23,000 homes and businesses and killed more than 100 people.

In an effort to reduce its liability and the risk of vegetation coming into contact with power lines and starting fires, PG&E has come under fire for destroying many large, old trees.

“Thank you to Save the Redwoods League for taking every opportunity to protect the lands of the Lost Coast which are vital to its conservation,” said Michael Evenson, vice president of the Lost Coast League, which advocates for the protection of the water and wildlife in the area. “But PG&E getting a green merit badge after all the destruction they’re doing…isn’t okay.”

Hawk Rosales, the council’s former executive director, said the new property adds a significant stake to the 4,000 acres (1,618.7 hectares) the group protects for cultural and ecological purposes.

More importantly, it recognizes the importance of the tribal group in maintaining the land.

“For so many decades, tribal voices have been marginalized in the mainstream conservation movement,” Rosales said. “It’s only very recently that they’ve been asked to participate in a meaningful way and take on a leadership role.”

Hodder said the league is trying to remove barriers and increase the extent of land managed by tribal communities and return indigenous knowledge and practices, such as starting small controlled fires to clear underbrush. that lead to healthier forests. Experts said reintroducing fire to the California landscape, along with reducing fossil fuels, is key to fighting the state’s increasingly extreme and destructive blazes.

“These communities have been managing these lands for thousands of years,” Hodder said. “It is the exclusion of this stewardship in many ways that has gotten us into the mess we find ourselves in.”

Nohemi M. Moore