Amer­i­can In­di­ans and Na­tional Forests by Theodore Catton; The Hour of Land: A Per­sonal To­pog­ra­phy of Amer­ica’s Na­tional Parks by Terry Tem­pest Wil­liams

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Af­ter a half-cen­tury of ab­sence, the gray wolf re­turned to the wilds of Idaho in the late 1990s, thanks largely to the care­ful ste­ward­ship of the Nez Perce tribe. The wolf’s rewil­d­ing was both con­tro­ver­sial and ground­break­ing. For the first time in U.S.-In­dian re­la­tions, a Na­tive Amer­i­can tribe over­saw wildlife re­cov­ery, re­sum­ing a prac­tice of stew­ard­ing for­est and fauna that in­dige­nous na­tions had per­formed in the Americas for hun­dreds of years.

In Idaho, an al­liance of sports­men, ranch­ers, and law­mak­ers staunchly op­posed to the wolf’s rein­tro­duc­tion made sure that state law­mak­ers re­fused to aid any fed­eral pro­gram to re-es­tab­lish the species. But Idaho’s balk­ing left an open­ing for a third party — in this case, the Nez Perce — to man­age fed­eral ef­forts to bring the wolves back. Hav­ing al­ready proved them­selves in a trial role with the United States Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice over­see­ing small tracts of forests on reser­va­tion land, the Nez Perce tribal gov­ern­ment seized this much larger op­por­tu­nity to man­age re­sources on mil­lions of acres of fed­eral land out­side the bor­ders of their reser­va­tion. Bu­reau­crats were du­bi­ous: One tribal wildlife bi­ol­o­gist mused that state law­mak­ers were whis­per­ing among them­selves, “Give it to them [the Nez Perce] — they just might fail.”

Be­gin­ning with 15 ra­dio-col­lared wolves and a mod­est $150,000 in fed­eral funds, the tribe tracked and mon­i­tored wolves, alerted live­stock own­ers, ed­u­cated the public, and fol­lowed up on any in­ci­dents of live­stock pre­da­tion. The U.S. For­est Ser­vice helped by mak­ing sum­mer crew hous­ing avail­able to tribal em­ploy­ees, even air­lift­ing Nez Perce crews into re­mote lo­ca­tions. By the pro­gram’s third year, 55 wolf pups had been born in Idaho. Within a decade, an es­ti­mated 850 wolves had ex­panded to most of the state’s avail­able habi­tat.

This was a suc­cess story not only for the wolves, but also for the tribe, which re­cov­ered its own iden­tity as a stew­ard of forests and wildlife. “There was an un­usual kin­ship be­tween the Nez Perce and the wolf; each had been per­se­cuted and driven off the land. For the Nez Perce to help bring back the wolf of­fered a way for the tribe to bring back it­self,” writes Theodore Catton, a public his­to­rian who spe­cial­izes in re­search for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, in Amer­i­can In­di­ans and Na­tional Forests.

The wolf story may be unique to the Nez Perce, but ac­cord­ing to Catton’s new ac­count, over the past 25 years scores of Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes have be­gun as­sert­ing their sovereignty in man­ag­ing both In­dian land and the fed­eral wilder­ness ar­eas that of­ten abut reser­va­tions or were his­tor­i­cally part of tribes’ an­ces­tral lands. Catton claims the U.S. For­est Ser­vice was the fed­eral agency most hos­tile to their de­mands. Be­gin­ning in the 1970s, tribes who shared con­verg­ing wa­ter­ways be­gan form­ing in­ter­tribal fish­ing com­mis­sions and hir­ing fish­ing bi­ol­o­gists to help them ad­vo­cate and cre­ate pol­icy. The re­sult was that both the U.S. For­est Ser­vice and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice were forced to change with the times.

Other tribes, in­spired by new fed­eral laws pro­tect­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can an­tiq­ui­ties, burial grounds, and re­li­gions, found new rea­sons to man­date that the U.S. For­est Ser­vice work with them to pre­vent min­ing, drilling, and other re­source ex­trac­tion on sa­cred lands. The so-called “tim­ber tribes,” such as the Menom­i­nee of Wis­con­sin, used their new­found al­liances with the U.S. For­est Ser­vice to greatly ex­pand their com­mer­cial log­ging op­er­a­tions while in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing their deep knowl­edge of con­ser­va­tion prac­tices. In­dige­nous forestry stu­dents across the con­ti­nent have flocked to the Col­lege of Menom­i­nee Na­tion in Green Bay, of­ten re­ferred to, Catton writes, as “a meet­ing place of Na­tive knowl­edge and Western sci­ence.”

Yet the book is far from a cel­e­bra­tion of Na­tive Amer­i­can-For­est Ser­vice al­liances. As Catton notes at the start of his nar­ra­tive, re­cent ac­tions still anger sev­eral tribes. Catton re­counts that in the sum­mer of 2011, Navajo and Hopi ac­tivists chained them­selves to snow­mak­ing ma­chin­ery at the Ari­zona Snow­bowl in the Co­conino Na­tional For­est. To re­duce costs,

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