WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 1, 2015 AT 4:00 PM EDT - The U.S. Forest Service today released Tribal Connections, a new online interactive mapping tool that shows how lands managed by the agency connect or overlap with current tribal trust lands and lands tribes exchanged with the federal government prior to 1900. This reference tool will help Forest Service employees and the public better understand historical treaties and the role they play in making current land management decisions.
“Our country has a deep yet sometimes forgotten connection to indigenous people and their lands, which all Americans now call home,” said Arthur “Butch” Blazer, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. “By showing historical and modern connections to public lands in one place, we can all understand that land management decisions should take into account more than what meets the eye.”
Tribal Connections compiles information from hundreds of Smithsonian Institute maps and displays them in a single visual presentation. Forest Service mapping experts have used information by Smithsonian ethnographer Charles C. Royce published in 1899. At the time, Royce used the best tools and information available, but incorporated geographic descriptions that have been difficult to replicate with modern technology.
Tribal Connections contains multiple layers that include information on forests and grasslands managed by the agency, lands owned by tribes and historical data on lands ceded by treaties. Nearly 4,000 miles of shared boundaries between tribal lands and Forest Service-administered/owned land are identified.
Clicking on the map provides additional current and historical detail for each location. Tribal Connections uses the most current data available from Federal Census Bureau, Forest Service, Smithsonian and other sources. Having this information easily available in one online resource will improve the efficiency of agency-tribal coordination, collaboration and consultation.
Tribal Connections can serve as a helpful reference tool, however, it is not a legally binding map nor a source for legal descriptions.
The Forest Service will use the map to help improve decision-making on incident and resource management and to honor and strengthen treaty rights and the federal trust responsibility. It will also help identify opportunities for new and expanded partnerships between tribes and the agency.
“Tribes are an integral part of our American story, leaders in our natural resource heritage and the original stewards of the lands we hold dear,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Tribal Connections helps improve agency collaboration with Tribes and allow for new opportunities by visually depicting just how much of our natural and cultural resource interests overlap and meet geographically.”
Approximately 52 million acres of land are held in trust by the U.S. for various Indian tribes and individuals. The largest is the 16 million-acre Navajo Nation Reservation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Much of the lands managed by the Forest Service and other federal agencies were ceded to the United States by tribes. Although they no longer reside on these lands, many tribes retain rights and interests in national forests and grasslands by treaty.
The Forest Service Office of Tribal Relations worked with the agency’s Geospatial Service and Technology Center to develop the map. The map includes information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Smithsonian Institution, with input from other federal agencies, intertribal organizations and individual tribal members.
The Tribal Connections viewer is available online through the Forest Service Geodata Clearinghouse, the online collection of digital data related to forest resources.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands managed by the Forest Service contribute more than $13 billion to the national economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., including 100 million acres of urban forests where most Americans live.