10,300 acres of ancestral territory to be reclaimed by Tribe

By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s effort to reclaim more than 10,300 acres of their ancestral territory is one $4.5 million step closer to reality.

The California Coastal Conservancy pledged to disburse the $4.5 million to the Hoopa Valley Tribe at their Thursday, June 1 meeting in Sacramento. This pledge is in addition to a $5.1 million grant previously awarded to the Tribe by a private funding source.

The Pine Creek Tract is a swath of contiguous land that extends along what is presently the western border of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. The land, made up of 38 parcels, is mostly owned by California Timberlands 2, LLC. Two parcels are owned by private parties. The total purchase price is about $14 million.

Chairman Joe Davis speaks at a podium

“This is an extremely important project for us. It really gets to the core of the health of our people in the reservation,” Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Joe Davis said. “Historically our people have always believed that the health of our environment, directly relates to the health of our people.”

The project will enable the Hoopa Valley Tribe to regain aboriginal territory and manage cultural and natural resources of the land based on traditional and sustainable management practices. The property contains sacred areas that have been inaccessible to the Tribe for more than 100 years.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe plans to enhance and restore habitat for species of concern on the property, including listed salmonids, northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher and Roosevelt Elk. The property will enhance habitat for more than 240,000 contiguous protected lands to facilitate plant and wildlife species climate adaptation. The land borders Redwoods National Park, the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and the Bureau of Land Management’s Lacks Creek Management Area.

“We are the largest reservation in California, however, we actually only occupy about one fifth of our aboriginal territory, so being able to reacquire 10,000 acres in our original homelands is huge for us,” Davis said. “Not only will we have the opportunity to restore the Pine Creek watershed, which is spawning grounds for our sacred salmon runs, but also we’ve done some really great work partnering with CalFire and others on fuels reduction and sudden oak death remediation in that area.”

California Sate Senator Mike McGuire wrote in his letter of support, “The Tribe has an outstanding record of natural resource management, through the expertise and dedication of staff in Tribal Forestry, Tribal Fisheries, Tribal Environmental Protection and Cultural Resources Management. If the Tribe can regain the Pine Creek Tract, they will once again be able to manage it in alignment with their traditional ecological knowledge, as they did for thousands of years.”

The Pine Creek Tract was previously managed for industrial timber harvest. Past practices include clearcuts, commercial thins, selection harvests and herbicide applications. In 2018, New Forest developed an Improved Forest Management project for the sale of carbon offsets on 8,005 acres of the property. Most portions of the property that are not included in the carbon offset project are either not forested (grasslands) or have low tree density and size.

California Assemblymember James Ramos said the project will be a flagship for the State’s 30×30 initiative and, “…allow Hoopa people to regain stewardship of their ancestral land. This particular tract has great significance to the Hoopa people as it contains the headwaters of sacred fish spawning grounds, drinking water supplies, gathering sites for food and basketry materials, and other plant and wildlife species that hold great importance to their culture.”

Hoopa Valley Tribe Councilmember Jill Sherman-Warne, who attended the hearing via Zoom, thanked the Coastal Commission, especially Chairman Douglas Bosco, who has a long history working with the Hoopa and Yurok Tribes. She said, “Hoopa has fought for a very long time to reacquire ancestral lands and to maintain jurisdiction over tribal lands. We are super excited to bring this property back to Hoopa.”

The Hoopa Valley Tribe has secured $9.7 million of the $14.2 million needed to secure the property prior to December 31, 2023. An additional $4.5 million is needed to complete the purchase.

“This is going to be an important boost to our tribal membership and our ability to maintain our way of life and manage our cultural resources and protect what’s very sacred to us,” Davis said.