Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

Rep. Jared Huffman has introduced legislation that would transfer 1,229 acres of U.S. Forest Service land into trust for the Yurok Tribe and expand the boundaries of the reservation.

A release from Huffman’s Office Friday called the bill a pivotal piece of legislation that aims to strengthen self-governance and sovereignty, and improve tribal infrastructure.

“The Yurok Tribe would like to sincerely thank Congressman Huffman for his commitment to serving all residents of the North Coast,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., chairman of the Yurok Tribal Council. “This bill serves to support our independence and continued success as a thriving Tribal nation.”

Huffman said the bill would realize past commitments made to the tribe by Congress and give the tribe a role in land management while preserving the rights of neighboring tribes and local interests.

Huffman’s Communications Director Alexa Shaffer said Friday the bill has bipartisan support, which may improve its chances of full approval.

According to the release, the Yurok Lands Act will transfer 1,229 acres of US Forest Service land to the tribe, expand the boundaries of the Yurok reservation to include the Blue Creek Watershed, give the tribe a greater role in federal land management decisions within the reservation, require that federal authorities consult the tribe on major affecting actions, and ratifies the Yurok’s governing documents to strengthen tribal governance and sovereignty.

The bill has not been noticed yet for a hearing before the house committee.

Recent discussion

Although the legislation is being introduced, it failed to get unanimous support from the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors in June, as requested by Huffman.

The tribe had been working on the legislation proposal for 20 years and asked supervisors to write a letter of support for the yet unintroduced legislation. Yurok Tribal Attorney Amy Cordalis told the board at the time, benefits of the legislation would be the tribe could then apply for grants to better manage the land. She said the tribe would then have increased authority to remove illegal marijuana grows. It would also have the ability to use grant money to repair and maintain the roads and bridges neglected by shortfalls in Forest Service funds.

However, some supervisors wanted firmer assurances the land allocation would not have an impact on the county’s tax rolls or that those lands would be logged. Tribal Council Member Jack Matts said at the time the tribe has no intention of logging the areas and plans to restore logged areas.

Cordalis said the 1,229 acre parcel represents only a small part of the county’s non-federal land and would likely have minimal impact on the county’s tax revenues.

As there was no consensus, no vote was taken by the board at the time as to signing a letter in support of the proposed legislation.

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