Federal public lands consist of over 250 million acres of national parks, wildlife refuges, conservation areas, wilderness areas, and other public lands that were previously owned and managed by American Indian Tribes. Today these lands are primarily managed by bureaus of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Agriculture.
Since the 1970’s, Congress has expanded the formal authority for Tribes to manage Federal public lands outside of Indian Reservations. The Indian Self Governance Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-413) amended the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to authorize Tribes to submit contracts to administer not only Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) services, but also the services of other bureaus of the Department of the Interior.
Cooperative and collaborative partnerships and Federal land co-management between Federal agencies and Tribal Nations have benefitted the ecosystems on Federal public lands. Two such examples of contracted cooperative agreements for natural resource management include contracts between the Ahtna Inter Tribal Resource Commission (AITRC) and the Department of the Interior and Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission (KRITFC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The BIA Branch of Fisheries, Wildlife and Recreation (BFWR) supports cooperative and collaborative partnerships and co-management through various funding programs. The BFWR Rights Protection Implementation program provides support for Tribal co-management of off-Reservation lands in accordance with Court-upheld Treaty rights, encompassing 49 Tribes in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions as well as supporting Tribal participation in the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The BFWR Alaska Subsistence Program provides competitive funding to inter-Tribal organizations to build the capacity to enter into cooperative agreements, establish memoranda of understanding, and advance other methodologies to enable Tribal co-management and achieve a reserved right to subsistence resources.
A collection of current memoranda, secretarial orders, and scholarship on Federal public land cooperative and collaborative partnerships and co-management with Tribes are included below.
Memoranda and Secretarial Orders
The legal authority for Tribes to engage in formal agreements with the Federal government to provide services for the benefit of Indian Tribes has been enacted by Congress, as mentioned above. Policy guiding Federal agencies to engage in cooperative and collaborative partnerships and co-management has also been established by secretarial order.
A selection of current secretarial orders and memoranda pertaining to Federal public land cooperative and collaborative partnerships and co-management with Tribes is provided below.
- November 15, 2021: Joint Secretarial Order No. 3403, “Joint Secretarial Order on Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Waters” (pdf)
- October 21, 2016: Secretarial Order No. 3342, “Identifying Opportunities for Cooperative and Collaborative Partnerships with Federally Recognized Indian Tribes in the Management of Federal Lands and Resources” (pdf)
- June 23, 1994: Memorandum, “Indian Fish and Wildlife Policy” (pdf)
Scholarship and Reports
Researchers have studied the efficacy and outcomes of Tribal cooperative and collaborative partnerships in Federal land management, as well as Tribal co-management of Federal land. A selection of publicly available articles and reports are provided below.
- “Facilitating Tribal Co-Management of Federal Public Lands” by Kevin Washburn. Wisconsin Law Review, University of Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-45. Volume 2022, Issue 2, 2022.
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