USDA renews commitment to protection of culturally significant lands and resources
WASHINGTON, December 6, 2012–Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released a report calling for USDA and the U.S. Forest Service to work more closely with tribal governments in the protection, respectful interpretation and appropriate access to Indian sacred sites.
The report recommends steps the Forest Service should take to strengthen the partnerships between the agency, tribal governments, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities to help preserve America's rich native traditions.
"American Indian and Alaska Native values and culture have made our nation rich in spirit and deserve to be honored and respected," Vilsack said. "By honoring and protecting sacred sites on national forests and grasslands, we foster improved tribal relationships and a better understanding of native people's deep reverence for natural resources and contributions to society."
Sacred sites are currently defined by Executive Order 13007 signed in 1996, which focuses on specific sites and Indian religion. The report recommends that the department take a broader view by also considering cultural and landscape perspectives.
"I applaud the Forest Service for initiating and completing the sacred sites report," said Harris Sherman, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. "It is a very important step in broadening our understanding and protection of sacred sites, and building on relationships with Native America Communities".
The report is a culmination of more than 100 meetings with tribal members and agency employee surveys. Among the recommendations is for Forest Service employees to receive training about tribal history, law and cultural sensitivities.
- Confer with traditional practitioners and communities with knowledge and interests in sacred sites and resource protection.
- Update agency policy to ensure consultation on sacred sites is conducted pursuant to existing law.
- Develop a joint tribal-agency partnership guide.
- Provide tribes consistent advance notice of nationwide consultation opportunities.
- Use provisions of the agency's new planning rule to ensure protection of sacred sites is considered in forest and grassland management.
- Promote cooperative law enforcement agreements with tribal police and conservation departments to enforce cultural laws such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
- The mission of the Forest Service 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. Forest Service lands contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone.
Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $27 billion per year.