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Tribe, conservation groups sue Six Rivers National Forest

ORLEANS, Calif. – The Karuk Tribe of northern California has filed suit against Six Rivers National Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley, charging in Northern California District Court that the U.S. Forest Service has violated the National Historic Preservation Act by doing heavy equipment logging in areas sacred to the tribe.

“We participated in good faith in the Forest Service’s collaborative process and we were assured that our sacred areas would be protected and our cultural values respected,” said Leaf Hillman, the tribe’s natural resources director. “It’s now obvious that those were hollow promises.”

According to the final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, the stated purpose and need for the fuel reduction effort is to “manage forest stands to reduce fuels accumulation and improve forest health around the community of Orleans”

However, the actual work on the ground is clearly inconsistent with these stated goals, according to Hillman.

“Supervisor Kelly and the Forest Service have already destroyed cultural sites that are still used by the tribe during World Renewal Ceremonies.”

“After years of meetings between officials from Six Rivers National Forest, the Karuk Tribe, conservation groups and community members, details of the Orleans Community Fuels Reduction Plan were agreed upon,” said Craig Tucker, tribe spokesman. “However, last fall when Supervisor Tyrone Kelley directed his crews to begin logging with heavy equipment in areas sacred to the Karuk Tribe, they violated the agreement and federal law, betraying the trust of local landowners.”

Involved in the suit are 914 acres to be mechanically harvested. The Forest Service awarded the contract to Timber Products for nearly $1 million. Outraged tribal members and local residents halted work on the project last November by blockading logging roads that access the units to be cut.

For three years the Orleans Ranger District in California’s Six Rivers National Forest held public meetings to work with the Orleans community to develop a fuels reduction plan that both Native and non-Native community members could accept, Tucker said. Tribal members, as well as non-Native local residents, thought a consensus had been reached.

“However, when logging began last fall, community members realized immediately that Kelly had reneged on his promises and violated the law by implementing a plan inconsistent with his own Environmental Impact Statement,” Tucker said.

At issue is the use of heavy logging equipment in areas deemed sacred by the Karuk Tribe, divergence from measures designed to protect, promote, enhance and restore stands of ecologically sensitive hardwoods, failure to protect large diameter trees, and a failure to make good on a commitment for multi-party monitoring during the fuels reduction operations.

The Karuk Tribe felt legal action against the U.S. Forest Service was their only remaining alternative.

“Our communities need fire protection, and we support appropriate thinning,” said Kimberly Baker, of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “This is apparently an industrial timber harvest plan masquerading as fire protection.”

“We are proud to work with the Karuk Tribe to protect the landscapes they have cared for thousands of years,” said Scott Greacen, Environmental Protection Information Center executive director. “It’s a real shame, and a tragic reflection on the Forest Service’s institutional compulsion to pursue industrial logging at every opportunity, that the agency has squandered the opportunity to work with the tribe, the community, and environmental groups that do support sensible thinning.”

The court complaint charges that Kelley and the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Protection Act, National Forest Management Act, Healthy Forests Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. Plaintiffs in the suit include the Karuk Tribe, EPIC, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and the Klamath Forest Alliance.