Your proposed legislation deals with two of what are currently nine Titles in the House version of CARA. I will restrict most of my remarks to these two titles, though I will, at the end of my remarks, touch briefly on two other CARA Titles of import to Indian country.
Senator Reid, like States, Indian tribes have governmental responsibility for the conservation of fish and wildlife resources, and the regulation of hunting and fishing and gathering, on their lands. Native Americans who fish, hunt, and gather on Indian lands pay excise taxes on ammunition, fishing gear, guns, and boat fuel, just like other Americans. It is critical that any wildlife conservation Title of CARA, or a standalone bill, include a equitable distribution of federal funds to Indian tribes for conservation and regulation, so that we can receive, and count on receiving, federal monies for these woefully underfunded areas for which states have been receiving money for many years.
Indian tribes play a unique and crucial role in four purposes identified under this title: 1) wildlife and habitat conservation; 2) development of comprehensive wildlife conservation and restoration plans; 3) cooperative planning and implementation of wildlife conservation plans; and 4) wildlife education and public involvement. Having lived in our homelands for thousands of years, Indian tribes have developed a unique understanding of the ecosystem and through our traditional and customary practices we have developed a traditional knowledge and science that enhances the scope of conventional science. Additionally, because tribal members have significantly more contact with the habitat and wildlife and because we rely upon the natural resources of our homelands, we are exposed to a greater degree of risk when the wildlife and habitat is impacted. An unhealthy ecosystem will directly impact the lives of Indian people.
Although there is little BIA funding and no EPA funding available for tribes to conserve and restore wildlife, the Washoe Tribe has pursued a commitment to habitat restoration and conservation, not just on tribal lands but within our entire ancestral homelands. On tribal lands we have used clean water funding to restore stream banks and improve wildlife and aquatic habitat along the riparian corridor of the Carson River. In addition, our conservation and restoration efforts have maintained a reach of Clear Creek that university students and local school groups visit to study. As part of our cooperative agreement with the US Forest Service at Lake Tahoe the Washoe Tribe is preparing a wetlands conservation and restoration plan for the Meeks Creek meadow and the Taylor/Baldwin wetlands. The Tribe will implement the wetlands conservation and restoration plan in cooperation with the Forest Service. However, because of the lack of funding, these efforts are isolated and we are not able to achieve the full benefits of comprehensive habitat planning.
The Wildlife Conservation and Restoration title of the pending House legislation (HR 701 ) and last year's Senate bills (S. 2123 and S. 2567) clearly identifies the need for a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Plan, but the Washoe Tribe has no funding available for development of such a plan. While we have been able to implement and develop plans for isolated wetland areas through clean water funding, we have not been able to develop a comprehensive conservation and restoration plan or even collect data on wildlife populations. The need for such plans increases as commercial and residential development continues to creep in on tribal lands and the pressure on wildlife habitat increases. Furthermore, Tribal lands are often intermixed with lands under federal and state jurisdiction, requiring a coordinated planning approach. In our case, the Washoe Tribe has jurisdiction over more than 60,000 acres of Indian allotment lands in the Pine Nut Mountains, which are located in a checkerboard pattern with BLM lands and private lands. Currently the BLM and State agencies are engaged in a planning process in for their portions of the Pine Nut Mountains, and the Tribe is a critical partner. However, the Tribe's efforts are clearly hampered by our lack of funding for wildlife and habitat planning. Similarly, conservation planning funds would enhance our efforts to work with our state and federal partners on the conservation and restoration of habitats in the Lake Tahoe Basin and on along the Carson and Truckee Rivers.
The pending House legislation, HR 701, includes language that would provide Indian tribes with direct access to the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act funding. The allocation mechanism proposed in this year's House version of CARA, allocates up to 2.25% of total dollars to be divided among all 550 Indian tribes based on relative land area and population. The 2.25% is based in the acres of Indian trust land relative to total acreage in the United States (56,015,221 million Indian trust acres divided by the 2,379,390,458 acres that comprise the entire United States). In fact, the 2.25% actually represents less than the full equitable share, for an example, the Washoe Tribe has done work on USES lands with the Forest Service to conserve and restore wetlands on lands at Lake Tahoe. Indian tribes will continue to work on conserving wildlife and critical ecosystems within ceded treaty lands and other ancestral homelands, which are no longer held in trust. Finally, it is important to note that current proposals of this nature do not reduce existing allocations to states and territories under the Dingell-Johnson or Pittman-Robertson Acts, but rather involve only new allocations never before raised and distributed.
The Senate CARA bills from last year omitted critical allocation to Indian tribes, and would have continued to exclude tribes from these funds, and I strongly urge you to use the language from Title III of this year's Senate legislation.
Sensitive, Threatened and Endangered Species Incentives Title
As to your proposals under the category of Sensitive, Threatened, and Endangered Species Incentives, we applaud your efforts to extend funding to conservation plans to preserve species that are not yet listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but are species of concern. Hopefully, by focusing efforts on these species prior to their being listed we can avoid the need to list them. Additionally, we encourage you to move beyond the language as contained in CARA Title VII, and recognize the impacts of the conservation of these species on Indian tribes. Sensitive, threatened, and endangered species are a concern of Indian peoples everywhere, for they are a part of our cultural heritage and a consideration in our land management activities.
A classic example of this is the Lahontan cutthroat trout of the river basins of Nevada. Native and non- Native peoples alike share a desire for the recovery of these amazing fish. Habitat recovery efforts are underway by all stakeholders, and help from the federal government would be most welcome. Indian lands are integral to these efforts, and the inclusion of Indian tribes as potential recipients of federal funds for the development of conservation plans and recovery agreements would be appropriate. The State-Federal-Tribal recovery LTC effort on the Truckee River is a specific example where the ability of Tribes to engage the other partners is limited by our lack of funding. Again, in order for Indian tribes to play our proper role in these conservation efforts, it is necessary that tribes have the ability to access these funds directly.
Other CARA Provisions
I would like to briefly deviate from the two primary topics of your proposed legislation to talk about a couple of other aspects of the big CARA package that are important to tribes and that were stripped from last year's bill at the eleventh hour:
-- The first is Title II, Land & Water Conservation Fund Revitalization, which would allocate federal monies from oil and gas revenues to various federal agencies and state and tribal governments for the acquisition of land for conservation purposes. Tribes would be entitled to one state's worth of funding under current House bill language. This too was stripped from last year's "CARA Lite," and I encourage you to support the effort to include tribes in any Land and Water Conservation fund distribution in FY2002 and beyond. Although the Tribe has no funding for conservation land acquisition, the Washoe Tribe has been successfully partnered with federal agencies and private parties to acquire sensitive environmental and cultural lands for conservation purposes. Indian tribes bring a unique element to the conservation effort, and with funding we will be able to achieve more win-win situations. Again, looking to the Pine Nut Mountains, to improve land management, federal and state agencies and governments support Washoe Tribal acquisition of private land holdings which are surrounded by Indian allotment lands, and the private land owner is interested in selling the land to the Tribe, but there are no land acquisition funds available.
-- The final provision of note is the National Park and Indian Lands Restoration, currently Title VI of last year's Senate bill. The Title would provide up to $25 million annually for a coordinated program on Indian lands to restore degraded lands, protect resources that are threatened with degradation, and protect public health and safety.
The $25 million allocated to tribes under this title is modest when you consider that it must be spread among more than 550 tribal governments and 56 million acres of Indian trust land. However, it does represent a critically important source of funds, and I strongly urge you to ensure that the Senate version of CARA Title VI or its equivalent is kept intact in any CARA legislation that emerges from the 107th Congress.
Senator Reid, once again I thank you for your leadership on this and so many other issues important to the
Washoe Tribe and Indian people across the United States.