Sonoma County seeks assurances from Pomo regarding timber harvesting

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The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians wants to expand its remote rancheria, and although Sonoma County officials are supportive, they want greater assurance to be able to weigh in on any timber harvest plans for the tribe’s newly acquired property.

The Kashia Pomos two years ago bought 480 forested acres next to their Stewarts Point Rancheria, about 30 miles north of Bodega Bay, with plans to preserve their cultural and spiritual sites and use the land for tribal gatherings.

“We don’t have a lot of really big, long-term plans for it,” Tribal Chairman Reno Franklin said Friday, adding that the tribe dismissed any possibility of a casino or commercial development due to the remote location.

Nor is the tribe’s intent to commercially harvest marijuana, as some tribes are pursuing.

“We take any drug use really seriously and don’t want to perpetuate it into the community,” he said. “We will not be entertaining, or considering in any way, marijuana cultivation on that land.”

The only intent, he said, is to “sustainably harvest timber.”

Because the 860-member tribe has applied to have its new property placed into federal trust — which would remove it from county jurisdiction and local land use and zoning guidelines — county officials want to see more analysis of foreseeable environmental impacts, in particular logging.

But the county “wholeheartedly supports the tribe’s desire to reclaim this piece of traditional land and their commitment to its preservation,” west county Supervisor Efren Carrillo said Friday.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is set to approve draft comments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking for the tribe’s Environmental Assessment — which is part of its federal trust application — to be broadened.

But the county also struck a cooperative tone in a draft letter, stating that it has been in discussions with the Pomos “and anticipates working productively with the tribe toward formulating an intergovernmental agreement that will address the future uses of the land, should it be taken into trust.”

Tribal attorney Anthony Cohen said Friday that he expects the U.S. Department of Interior could approve the tribe’s application relatively quickly — perhaps this year — especially since there is no casino proposed, a controversial element that can drag out the process.

“If there was gaming, it would take much longer,” he said, adding that it’s also expected to go faster because the land is adjacent to the 42-acre rancheria the tribe has had since 1920.

Chairman Franklin said about 80 to 120 people live on the federally established rancheria located near Tin Barn Road and Stewarts Point-Skaggs Spring Road, with the other tribal members spread mostly through Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties.

But the Kashia Pomos say their ancestors first lived in the area 12,000 years ago, something the county observed in its letter to federal officials.

Franklin said the tribe’s aboriginal territory totaled about 220,000 acres in northwest Sonoma County. He noted the Kashia Pomos had some of the first contact with European settlers, signing a treaty of co-existence in the early 1800s with the Russians at Fort Ross.

The tribe was able to acquire the property next to its rancheria using funds its members receive from California tribes with casinos.

Tribal members agreed to surrender their per capita payments from the revenue-sharing fund to buy the 480-acre property for $1.35 million from the longtime owner, the Stephen Roberts Family Trust.

Although the tribe is economically struggling, Chairman Franklin said it is “culturally rich” and preserves its language and religion.

The fact that tribal members gave their own money to enable the purchase and secure the land into the future “speaks volumes,” Franklin said.

“To bring this land into the tribe, with the ability to govern that land, I can’t begin to explain how significant that is for us,” he said.

By having the land placed into federal trust, he said the tribe can take advantage of grants to help with fire suppression, road maintenance and developing clean water sources.

The newly acquired property was logged in the past. Franklin said it could be years before any logging is resumed by the tribe.

Located on a ridge between the coast and the Santa Rosa Plain, the land is described as hilly and partially forested with redwood, fir and bay trees.

Franklin said any timber cutting would involve redwood and Douglas fir. The tribe says it plans to have the BIA help it develop a federal forest management plan, which also would conform to California forestry practices.

“We are super against clear-cutting,” Franklin said. “We want this to be a demonstration forest, of what a healthy harvest looks like.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.On Twitter@clarkmas

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