Evergreen: The many powers that Tribes hold as sovereign nations make some people very nervous. But what we see here is an opportunity for other landowners to partner with Tribes that have vastly more power than they do in their own respective relationships with the federal government.

Morishima: Tribes don’t look at it that way. Nor do they have any interest in dictating to the rest of the world. But different world views can foster new ways of thinking about difficult problems and open the way to finding creative solutions. Recognition of Tribal perspectives and values could serve as the key that could free collaborative processes from gridlock. Tribal commitments to long-term, multi-purpose stewardship could help bridge differences in values that other participants in collaborative processes may bring to the table. Indian forests are prime candidates to serve as Anchor Forests and Tribes are well positioned to lead collaborative processes because of their profound covenant for stewardship, intimate knowledge of the land, vision, and capabilities.

Gary Morishima, PhD mathematician
Co-founder, Intertribal Timber Council, Portland, Oregon
Technical Advisor for Natural Resources to the President of the Quinault Indian Nation, Seattle, Washington

Gary Morishima was born in a Japanese internment camp at Tulelake, California in July of 1944. He grew up in Seattle, graduated from Cleveland High School in 1962, and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Washington. He holds a PhD in Quantitative Science and Environmental Management. In 1969, he founded his own company – MORI-ko LLC – which provides consulting services to Indian tribes, government agencies and private industry in areas pertaining to computer simulation of natural resource management systems, statistical analysis, forestry and fisheries management, workshop organization and conflict resolution.

In this wide-ranging interview, Dr. Morishima discusses forest collaboration and his hopes for “Anchor Forestry,” a management concept of his design that will allow forest landowners to work together on projects that connect tribal landownerships with neighboring lands owned and managed by federal and state governments, Real Estate Investment Trusts [REITS], Timber Investment Management Organizations {TIMOS] and individuals.

Mr. Morishima – among other tribal leaders – appears in a short video series the Evergreen Foundation is producing that explains Anchor Forestry from cultural and scientific perspectives.

Evergreen: Dr. Morishima, we have known you through our work with the Intertribal Timber Council for nearly 20 years. We know you played a key role in ITC’s 1976 founding, but I don’t believe we’ve ever asked you what was going on the 1970s that had you believing such an organization was needed.

Morishima:  Until the mid-1970’s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had pursued what it perceived as its fiduciary duty to generate income by selling timber from the lands that the United States held in trust for the benefit of Indians. There were growing problems in the BIA’s single-minded approach to management. Annual allowable cuts were not being realized, stumpage was being sold at below market values, some stands were overstocked and reforestation efforts on cut over lands were dismal. Most importantly, Tribal objectives and priorities for long-term stewardship of non-timber resources, like water, fish, wildlife, foods, medicines, and environmental, and cultural resources were being largely ignored. Individually, Tribes were becoming increasingly concerned and frustrated.

Evergreen: Understandably so, but what brought the issue to a head?

Morishima: The spark that led to the establishment of the ITC came in the mid 1970’s when the BIA refused to allow tribal leaders to substantively participate in the development of programs to utilize a special $10 million Congressional appropriation for Indian forest development which the Tribes had worked hard to secure. This happened shortly after passage of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975, so the time was right for Tribes to assert greater influence over the management of their own assets. Disturbed and frustrated, a few Tribal leaders decided to convene a symposium titled “Making Dollars and Sense Out of Forestry” to share perspectives and learn how the BIA’s approach to forest management compared with that being practiced by federal and state agencies and private industry. At the end of that symposium, a small group of Tribal leaders and advisors assessed the situation.

Evergreen: Were they able to translate tribal frustration into some sort of action plan?

Morishima: Yes, in due course. It was clear that many Tribes shared common concerns and that the problems that had to be addressed were systemic in nature. It was also clear that individual Tribes would not be able to bring about the changes that were needed. At that point, there were two major paths that were considered. The first was to litigate and fight, and the second was to try to work together with the BIA and others to forge a new future. The first path would be costly, take many years, and likely to be met with divisiveness and intransigence by the Administration.   And even if litigation were to be successful, the problems facing tribal forests would still need to be fixed.

Evergreen: Two very different and difficult choices. What to do when faced with so many unknowns?

Morishima: Ultimately, Tribal leaders chose the second path, convinced that the best chance to make lasting improvements would be to work together in common purpose and to forge partnerships with the BIA, industry, and academia. The Intertribal Timber Council was formed within a matter of a few weeks.

Evergreen: In hindsight, was working for change, and not litigating, the right choice?

Morishima: Our experience over the last 40 years prove that tribal leadership made the right choice.

Evergreen: Over the years that we’ve been reporting from Indian Country, we’ve seen tribal forestry assume its’ more rightful place on the nation’s forestry stage. This would seem to fit with your view that tribal leadership made the right choice in forming ITC. What then can we say have been the key elements in tribal forestry’s progress?

Morishima: First, Tribal commitment to stewardship – to care for the land for both present and future generations that only comes from permanence of place. Permanence of place is important not only for knowledge of the land and local communities, but also because Tribes have very little ability to relocate from the lands that are reserved for their use and occupancy.

Second, the recognition of interconnectedness between people and their environments and the intimate knowledge gained over countless generations, observing, learning through experience, and initiating management actions to meet their needs.

Third, Tribal survival over countless generations has depended upon the ability and willingness to adapt –to use all the tools at their disposal, whether ideas from western science or from their own beliefs and experience to solve problems and sustain their cultures and economies as conditions change.

Fourth, because of chronic underfunding, Tribes have had to resort to creativity and innovation, piecing together pieces of projects and programs to get work done on the ground.

And last, with only small remnants of their former traditional homelands still within their control as reservations, tribes recognize and understand that their actions affect their neighbors and their neighbors’ actions affect them. To Tribes, the necessity to build partnerships to try to sustain the viability of essential ecological and economic functions across the landscape is clear and compelling. Tribal leadership has had the tenacity and vision to work collectively and collaboratively to forge working relationships to accomplish things beyond their individual parochial interests.

Evergreen: We have long admired the spiritual and cultural underpinnings of forestry as it is practiced in Indian Country. In fact, you and I have even co-authored a couple of essays in which we explain tribal forestry to the uninitiated. But we’re wondering if you can explain – in your own words – the Indian connection to land and place and how it influences tribal forest practices.

Morishima:  In a word, respect. Tribal perspectives are rooted in a profound commitment to stewardship and the concept of reciprocity. Tribes recognize that the consequences of their decisions regarding natural resources will be felt not only by those who are around today, but by the countless generations that will follow. They understand that stewardship and the ability of the environment to meet the needs of their communities depends critically on respect and care, not neglect. Tribes know that they must care for the land so the land can care for them in return.

Evergreen: You are the architect of a new forest management model called “Anchor Forestry.” We can’t recall anyone ever attempting to equate anchors with forestry. How did you come up with the name and what message does it send to the forestry world?

Morishima: The idea of anchors came about while contemplating the consequences of increasing fragmentation of our forests. The accelerating pace of social, economic, legal, administrative, spatial, temporal, and jurisdictional change threaten the ability to sustain working forests on the landscape. Unless healthy, productive forests are maintained, the myriad benefits and services that we desire from our forests will disappear at enormous ecological and social costs. If you’re adrift on a ship in stormy seas, what do you do? You use anchors. Anchors don’t guarantee that bad things won’t happen, but they can provide secure points to try to stop or slow movement in an undesirable direction – they provide a chance to avoid disaster.   Anchor Forests are intended to serve a similar purpose.

Evergreen: So the “anchors” are the working forests that sustain timber communities and the wood processing infrastructure they hold that, in turn, provide employment for the community.

Morishima: That’s correct. They are large blocks of forest land that are expected to remain in long-term forest production with commodity production as a key and necessary objective. As working forests, they provide a framework of reasonably stable support points – anchors – for a foundation to integrate community, economy, and the environment through collaborative management and investment to sustain and improve ecological and economic functions.

Evergreen: Grand scale thinking for sure – and we like the name you’ve chosen for your forest collaboration.

Morishima: We’re hoping the unusual paring of words – anchor and forestry – will pique enough curiosity to spur efforts to learn about the concept and its objectives.

Evergreen: It looks to us like a real world example of how forest collaboratives might work at a landscape scale that crosses neighboring ownerships – federal, state, tribal and perhaps even lands managed by Real Estate Investment Trusts and Timber Investment Management Organizations. Is this true – and if it is what issues might collaborators address on such a large scale?

Morishima: That’s the hope. But there are important differences. Most forest collaborative processes are focused on management of federal lands; participants try to find a way to accommodate their respective interests through negotiation, often through allocating lands for dedicated purposes or agreeing upon management prescriptions under federal management. By contrast, anchor forestry seeks to address forest fragmentation by providing a framework to inspire opportunities and incentives for cross boundary cooperation and collaboration involving tribal, federal, state, and private ownerships.

Evergreen: How might this framework function in a practical sense?

Morishima: As a starting point, it would generate reliable long-term supplies of wood products that would, in turn, provide incentives for investment to develop new markets and provide competitive harvest, transportation, processing, management, and workforce infrastructure. Economic viability is essential to the ability to maintain healthy forests on the landscape, whether those forests are tribal, state, federal, industrial, or non-industrial.

Evergreen: With so many different ownerships engaged, you’d have access to an enormous amount of information spanning quite a wide range of forest management objectives that would play themselves out over very different time frames.

Morishima: That’s true. The ability to collectively analyze information and data could provide information to prioritize investment of public funds and identify opportunities for ways to share responsibilities to protect water, soils, and sensitive species of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats. Not all lands have equal value for all purposes; some are simply better suited than others. A one size fits all approach to management and regulation doesn’t work; the formula E3AT2 (“Everything for Everybody Everywhere All the Time”) is not possible or practical to try to satisfy.

Evergreen: So anchor forestry becomes the framework that enables participating landowners to better understand how they fit within a very large landscape that includes many owners with many different management objectives.

Morishima: That’s correct. The ability to evaluate cross-boundary forests across the landscape would enable more cost-efficient ways to participate in carbon, ecosystem markets, forest certification systems, biomass, bio-refining, and alternative energy processes that can utilize wood.

Evergreen: The U.S. Forest Service is currently funding two “Anchor Forestry” pilot projects – one involving the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation in Northeast Washington and a second involving the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in Central Washington. What can you tell us about these two projects, and what opportunities for collaboration may present themselves?

Morishima: The two projects are proposed at a pilot scale to help investigate opportunities for cooperative landscape approaches at the scale and in the timeframe necessary to improve forest health and productivity. The Colville and Yakama Tribes have large forest land bases that are prime candidates to serve as anchor forests. Yakama Forest Products is the last mill in south central Washington and the Colville Tribes are planning to reopen one if its mills. In the past, these facilities have processed timber from tribal forests. If commitments for long-term wood supply can be secured, tribes would have the ability to make investment decisions that would improve and provide competitive markets for other forestland owner in the vicinity, encourage investment in infrastructure, and increase employment.

Evergreen: Sort of the “build it and they will come” approach.

Morishima: In a manner of speaking, yes, but there is more to this framework than generally meets the eye. Tribal involvement in these projects brings unique and important consideration that must be taken into account in collaborative processes.

The United States has federal trust responsibilities to Tribes which include obligations to consult with Tribal governments on federal actions and decisions that may affect tribal rights and interests.

If Tribes believe that conditions on federal forests pose threats to tribal lands, resources, or rights, they have the ability to propose treatments under the authority of the Tribal Forest Protection Act.

It is important to understand that the duty to protect the health and productivity of the resources held in trust for Indians does not fall solely on the BIA or Forest Service, but rather on the United States and all its entities. This opens the door for cross-agency collaboration that could bring a wide variety of resources to the task of sustaining forests

Tribes have reserved rights to access and utilize federal lands for hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping and the United States has the obligations to ensure that the resources necessary to exercise those rights are available.

Tribes also have water rights that can affect the quantity and quality of water that is captured, stored and filtered on National Forests.

Additionally, tribes are sovereign governments with rights and responsibilities as co-managers of resources off Tribal lands. As political sovereigns, Tribes can advocate for holistic, long-term stewardship to care for the land and the communities that depend upon it. They are in a position to argue that other political sovereigns like nation states, member states, counties, and cities – have a duty to fulfill their responsibilities to protect the public trust to prevent despoliation of the commons – the land, water, air, fish and wildlife for the sake of future generations of all peoples.

Finally, Tribes have on the ground experience and capacity in conducting and implementing management, administrative, and legal actions to protect these rights.

Evergreen: The many powers that Tribes hold as sovereign nations make some people very nervous. But what we see here is an opportunity for other landowners to partner with Tribes that have vastly more power than they do in their own respective relationships with the federal government.

Morishima: Tribes don’t look at it that way. Nor do they have any interest in dictating to the rest of the world. But different world views can foster new ways of thinking about difficult problems and open the way to finding creative solutions. Recognition of Tribal perspectives and values could serve as the key that could free collaborative processes from gridlock. Tribal commitments to long-term, multi-purpose stewardship could help bridge differences in values that other participants in collaborative processes may bring to the table. Indian forests are prime candidates to serve as Anchor Forests and Tribes are well positioned to lead collaborative processes because of their profound covenant for stewardship, intimate knowledge of the land, vision, and capabilities.

Evergreen: Everyone we’ve interviewed for our forest collaboration series – conservationists, lumbermen and other stakeholders – has emphasized the need for collaborative groups to work on much larger physical scales. Where tribal forestlands adjoin federal or state lands, “Anchor Forestry” would seem to open the door to that possibility. Do you agree – and if you do – how might these collaboratives connect the participating tribes?

Morishima: Yes, I agree that the opportunity is there for Tribes to participate in and substantially contribute to collaborative processes. As mentioned previously, they have certain rights and intergovernmental relationships that could prove to be pivotal to success. Tribal participation in collaborative processes at Mescalero, in New Mexico, proved pivotal in helping those involved overcome their differences and agree on a common course of action to treat unhealthy forests.

One of the major ways in which Tribal engagement could help is to bring a healthy dose of reality to collaborative processes. Often participants must rely upon hypothetical constructs to try to comprehend how particular actions might affect the land, based on mountains of numbers, maps, and model results. If site visits to Tribal forests could be arranged, participants in collaborative processes would have the opportunity to witness for themselves the outcomes of practicing active management for long-term multiple purpose stewardship.

Evergreen: Like the IFMAT investigations and subsequent progress reports that were the focal point of Evergreen’s three reports concerning forestry in Indian Country.

Morishima: That’s correct. As you know, the three independent Indian Forest Management Assessment Teams completed the decadal assessments under the aegis of the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act. All three teams found great diversity of management approaches tailored to local conditions and societal needs and concluded that, despite serious underfunding and understaffing, Indian forestry could provide models of sustainability for others to follow. The teams came away impressed with the ability to address a wide array of environmental, economic, and cultural needs using Tribal place-based knowledge, western science, practical know-how, and capacity to care for the land.

Evergreen: Because tribal lands constitute sovereign nations, many people believe that tribes get a pass where federal environmental laws are concerned. We know this isn’t true, but can you enlighten us as to the tribal approach to federal environmental laws and regulations.

Morishima: Some confusion has resulted from the unique status of Tribal lands when interpreting statutes and regulations that apply to federal lands, Even though the BIA is involved in the management of Tribal lands, Tribal lands are not federal lands, but are rather private lands that are held in trust for the benefit of Indians by the United States. A federal nexus is created by the trust relationship between the United States and Tribal assets. As the principal federal agency involved in administration of the trust, the BIA is usually required to adhere to federal laws and regulations that were crafted to apply to public lands. But federal environmental laws and regulations must be conducted in a manner respectful of the status of Tribes as political sovereigns with inherent rights, authorities and reserved rights. There are special regulations pertaining to Indian lands. For example, the requirement for public participation in NEPA processes is applied to the tribal, not general public; requirements to post bonds are designed to prevent frivolous challenges and appeals. As sovereign governments, Tribes have the authority to enact their own laws and regulations and many have enacted and enforce their own Tribal Environmental Policies independent of and in addition to applicable Federal processes for environmental review.

Evergreen: Which brings us to the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], which is frequently misused by litigants who oppose all forms of management on federal lands.

Evergreen: In recent years, Congress has ratified several laws that give tribes the authority to protect their lands from insect and disease infestations that are sweeping over neighboring federal lands. What authorities do these laws grant to tribes and how might these authorities be applied in a landscape scale collaborative involving tribal and federal forest lands?

Morishima: The principal laws are the Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA), judicial decisions, statutes, Executive Orders, and treaties. This body of law establishes certain rights for Tribes and responsibilities for the United States. The TFPA for example, enables tribes to propose projects using a best value basis to address conditions on lands administered by the US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management which threaten resources held in trust for Indians. Federal agencies are obligated to respond to these requests within a time certain. Treaty and other reserved rights to fish, wildlife and water impart certain other responsibilities on federal agencies to protect the health and productivity of the resources necessary for their meaningful exercise. Policies and directives provide requirements for government-to-government consultation when federal actions might adversely affect tribal rights and interests and provide additional protections for cultural resources and sacred sites.

Evergreen: Do you see a cultural gap between non-tribal collaboratives and tribes that are interested in collaboration and – if yes – how might the gap be bridged and what might existing forest collaboratives do to help bridge the gap?

Morishima: Yes, the significance and importance of cultural gaps cannot be overstated. These are most apparent in attitudes toward the environment. Tribes view themselves as part of an environment where everything is connected and they know that they lack the ability to control nature. Their approach to management reflects a kind of kinship of spirits between the land and all things that share the environment – man, air, water, all things that walk, crawl, swim, fly or grow roots, even soil and rocks. It’s holistic, long-term, and reflective of respect and humility under conditions that are driven by place-based uniqueness. Tribes understand and recognize that timely decisions and actions are imperative for effective resource management. Their communities must live with the consequences of management decisions every day. In contrast, non-Indian interests tend to view themselves as apart from their environments with the capacity to control nature to suit their purpose. Because of the lack of permanence on the land, consequences of non-Indian decisions are experienced infrequently without a clear recognition and understanding of cause and effect. Approaches to resource management tend to be much more isolated, generalized, fragmented, short-term, and reflective of an attitude of hubris.

Evergreen: By its very nature, the collaborative process appears to be opening uneducated eyes to the great challenges associated with land management – and the fact that the one-size-fits-all approach that Congress has mandated for decades is unworkable at the ground level where the symbiotic relationship between forests and communities is rooted. Would you agree?

Morishima: I do agree, though, again, there is more to this than meets the eye. Collaboration is a process that has developed over time as a means to try to gain a level of social license sufficient to permit active forest management to occur. Unfortunately, sometimes collaboration becomes the objective in itself rather than caring for the land so such processes can tend to drag on with uncertain outcomes. These cultural differences can become major sources of concern and frustration to Tribal participants. I wish there was a magic bullet, but there isn’t. A lot depends on the participants and their motivations. Collaboration can happen quickly or consume years in the trying. Successful collaboration requires participants to act in a way that is consistent with attainment of shared objectives, but finding common ground is not easy. Tribes know that partnerships are needed to effectuate landscape scale management and understand that collaboration can bring valuable skills and new resources to the task. Candid and respectful deliberation is always essential, but effective communication and cooperation among diverse interests to reach a common vision and action plan remains a formidable challenge.

Evergreen: And what exactly is the challenge?

Morishima: I see three big hurdles that collaborative processes must overcome to secure tribal involvement. First, participants are often unaware and unappreciative of the special status that Tribes enjoy. They are not stakeholders or user groups, but are rather political sovereigns and co-managers of shared resources and will be extremely reluctant to negotiate away their rights and interests.

Second, forests involve values and touch participants in different and often deeply personal ways. Finding the collective will and means to reconcile divergent and often conflicting views can require the dedicated commitment of substantial funding and scarce staff and policy attention over an extended period of time.

From a Tribal perspective, participation in collaborative processes is akin to a capital budgeting decision as to where limited resources should be prudently invested to promote the interests of their constituents in light of potential costs, payoffs, and risks of competing alternatives.

Third, the legal and administrative process within which collaboration is undertaken doesn’t assure that agreements despite being reached through heroic efforts of participants will be in fact be implemented.

Don’t expect quick decisions, but understand that Tribes appreciate the need to decide when action is needed. For Indian Country, procrastination is not a viable option. Deliberations in Tribal communities can take time because responsibilities to consider implications for today and the years to come are taken very seriously.

The main thing that collaboratives can do to try to involve Tribes is simply to invite them, not for the sake of checking a box to indicate an effort to seek involvement, but rather to contribute substantively to the process. My advice when trying to engage Tribes in collaborative processes” listen carefully, engage in open, honest dialogue, and be patient – in short, open your mind and speak from your heart.