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Michael Rondeau, left, CEO of the Cow Creek Tribe, and Tim Vredenburg, director of Forest Management for the tribe, pose for a photo in 2017.

The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians is getting 17,519 acres of timber land as part of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act signed in January of last year.

About 32,000 acres of land are being reclassified from public domain lands to tribal lands for the Cow Creek and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. Another 32,000 acres will be reclassified as Oregon and California Railroad Lands.

The tribe was one of the first to sign a compact with the state but it did not receive land in the agreement. Tim Vredenburg, Cow Creek’s director of forest management, said the land being restored is historically significant and right in the heart of the tribe’s ancestral land.

“The tribe’s waited over 150 years to have a reservation of their own that fulfills the 1853 treaty,” he said. “Really, I can’t overstate how important that land restoration is to the tribe. The tribe cares deeply for the land and the resource.”

The Bureau of Land Management has until January 2020 to determine which land will be reclassified and has published an interactive map on its website, www.blm.gov, to give the public an opportunity to identify areas of concern, according to acting Deputy State Director Michael Campbell.

“These lands, technically, haven’t left federal status,” Campbell said. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs is holding them in trust, but for all practical purposes, they are tribal lands.”

The BLM manages about 2.5 million acres of land in a checkerboard pattern throughout Western Oregon and the reclassified land will come from about 300,000 acres of public domain land.

“That’s kind of the point of this exercise is to say to members of the public, these are the 300,000 acres, of these, which do you think will be best to reclassify from public status to O&C status,” Campbell said.

Vredenburg said the tribe is in the process of collecting data to ensure the tribe uses the land for the benefit of the whole forest and within the tribe’s goals and principles.

“It’s a bit of process developing those strategies in a thoughtful way,” Vredenburg said. “The tribe looks at forest management and defines that through their values, they are considering the whole forest. They want clean water and healthy habitats where wildlife will be abundant and their people can hunt and fish and gather in a way that’s significant to them, that’s meaningful.”

Dan Courtney, the chair for the Cow Creek Tribe, said in a press release that everyone will benefit from tribal management.

“This forest will sustain and protect drinking water, wildlife, and local mills benefiting the health of a community we share with many,” Courtney said. “Additionally, we all benefit as tribal management practices have long demonstrated increased timber yields, suppressed fire dangers, and maintained biodiversity, providing a national model for sustainable forest management.”

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman, who is also the president of the Association of O&C Counties, said the association helped write the bill to ensure they would have “no net loss” of land.

“The resource management plan that manages the O&C doesn’t change,” Freeman said. “It’s a relatively small amount of land. Because there’s public domain lands, those lands will just literally move into the O&C holding. We’re at zero net loss, it’s just a shifting of lands.”

The Cow Creek Tribe has over 1,800 members. The tribe signed a treaty with the United States in 1853 and ceded more than 500,000 acres to the United States for 2.3 cents an acre, which was sold for $1.25 an acre to pioneer settlers according to the tribe’s website.

The Cow Creek Tribe never received the reservation the treaty promised but stayed in their homelands and continued to meet and hold council. Western Oregon tribes were forced to assimilate or were terminated in the 1950s. A more aggressive approach for restoration took place in the 1970s, according to the tribe’s website. The Tribe was restored in 1982.

“The tribes never stopped being tribes,” Vredenburg said. “It’s the fabric of who they are. The wheels of government turn slowly. If it weren’t for the determination of the tribe and recognition from the Oregon congressional delegation that a promise had been made and that it was important for us as a country to honor that promise, I don’t think it would have happened. It required an act of Congress and those are difficult to come by.”

Reporter Janelle Polcyn can be reached at jpolcyn@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Janelle Polcyn is a reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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