The Quinault’s Quest

A little before five in the evening, the line begins to form at the Quinault Beach Resort on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. It is seniors night—three dollars off Chef Doug’s home-style dinner buffet—and diners begin arriving early in the resort’s lobby, its walls hung with historic photographs of Quinault people.

Outside, wetlands spread with lupine, beach pea, and buttery iris separate the resort from a sandy beach. Inside, lit by a shaft of late-afternoon light from a nearby window and all but unnoticed by the gathering diners, two men and a woman huddle at a table over a glowing pair of laptop computers. They are as intent as teenaged gamers, except that their clicking fingers call forth not cops or robbers or soldiers or sorcerers, but timber stands, elk migration routes, salmon spawning habitat, and shoreline development.

“That’s the Queets River. See all that alder?” Tony Hartrich points to a splash of red on a computerized map of the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), north of the resort: 23 miles of spectacular coastline and more than 208,000 acres of the greenest, dampest, and most productive forestlands in the U.S.

As the manager of the QIN’s Geographic Infor-mation Systems (GIS) program, Hartrich supplied much of the data displayed on the computerized map. With him are Breece Robertson and Woody Duncan, of The Trust for Public Land’s GIS greenprinting program, who developed the computer models on which the map is based. The next day, in a resort meeting room, the three GIS experts will give the QIN tribal council its first look at a computerized modeling and mapping system commissioned by the Quinault and more than two years in the making.

“They get to see where all their resources fit together, and we want to get it right,” Breece Robertson says.

TPL devised its prize-winning “greenprinting” approach to GIS modeling and mapping as a decision-support tool for communities seeking to conserve land. Using the approach, a community designates priorities for conservation—such as watershed and wildlife habitat protection, trail creation, farmland preservation, or parks for underserved populations. Greenprint maps display opportunities for conservation based on those priorities, which can be weighted and reweighted in the maps and models according to what the community decides. In the last several years, TPL has completed more than 40 greenprints.

But the greenprint for the Quinault is in a class by itself. It is the first greenprint for a sovereign Indian nation—the first attempt to bring this modern, technological way of understanding a place to a community whose practical and spiritual knowledge of that place dates back to a time before history. And the circumstances of the plan are unique: it grew out of a 130-year-old land dispute that led to the restoration of more than 11,000 acres to the reservation.

Furthermore, the kinds of resources analyzed in the Quinault Greenprint differ from those targeted by greenprints for urban, suburban, or other rural environments, as do its goals. This nation of nearly 3,000 enrolled members—most living in two coastal villages, Taholah and Queets—is deeply rooted in the land and dependent on its natural resources, particularly forests and fisheries. Yet the nation actually owns less than a third of its reservation’s acreage, largely as a result of 19th- and early-20th-century government land policy that caused many parcels to be allotted or sold into private hands. This makes it very difficult for tribal government to manage resources strategically for the long-term benefit of both the resources and tribal members.

“You can imagine what a nightmare it was having over 200,000 acres of land allotted,” says Pearl Capoeman-Baller, former president of the QIN Business Council and advisory council member of TPL’s Tribal & Native Lands program, a partner in the greenprinting effort. “You can’t manage land when it’s in bits and pieces,” Capoeman-Baller adds.

So the Quinault Greenprint seeks to help the nation understand not only how its natural and cultural resources might be protected and managed, but also which lands within the reservation’s boundary might be restored to tribal control after years of land loss.

A Historic Land Dispute

On the morning the greenprint is to be presented to the tribal council, tribal members David Martin and Jim Campbell pilot a pair of pickups into an ever-ascending, ever-narrowing maze of dirt and gravel roads above the Quinault River valley, 30 miles from the coast at the northern edge of the reservation. Campbell is forestry manager for the nation’s Division of Natural Resources. Martin is general manager of Quinault Land and Timber Enterprise, a tribally owned business. This morning they are guiding a tour for the TPL greenprint team and other visitors who have come to the reservation for the presentation.

At a roadside clearing, the group clambers out of the trucks. Sweeping views open up across a radically up-and-down landscape dressed in Pacific silver fir, Douglas fir, and Western hemlock. Here and there on the dark hillsides, geometric shapes in a lighter shade of green mark the sites of former timber harvests. Other, darker, patches are dressed in old growth and will now stay that way forever.

The roots and goals of the Quinault Greenprint are bound up in the long and torturous history of land loss on the reservation—and in a long-festering dispute over a 15,000-acre parcel in what is known as the “north-boundary” area. Owing to what might generously be described as a “surveying error” (the land ended up with a member of the surveyor’s family), the parcel was left out of an 1873 reservation enlargement, despite falling within the designated boundaries. Located north and west of Lake Quinault, a large lake on the Quinault River, it includes ?at land along the lake as well as steep, remote old-growth forestlands that eventually became part of Olympic National Forest. Also included in the parcel were bottomland groves of cedar—huge trees of the sort traditionally used for building canoes.

Over more than a century, the nation never gave up hope that this land would be added to the reservation. Meanwhile, the federal government had instituted policies that would lead to further loss of Native American lands. The General Allotment Act of 1887, also known as the Dawes Act, divided reservation land among tribal members, ostensibly for farming. Land that was not allotted was sold off to homesteaders, and much of the allotted land was eventually sold to whites or inherited by a non-Indian spouse, or its ownership divided among dozens (sometimes hundreds) of descendents of the original allottees. Within 45 years of the Dawes Act, Native Americans nationwide lost nearly two-thirds of the land that they had reserved for themselves by treaty. On the Quinault Reservation, more than 30 percent of the land was lost to the nation in this way, often ending up in the hands of private timber companies.

Beginning in the 1960s, the Quinault Indian Nation began to assert its sovereign right to manage its own resources. In order to do this more efficiently, it began to acquire some of these private lands within the reservation boundaries. But finding funds to consolidate reservation lands was always a problem.

The fate of the north-boundary property became intimately involved with the nation’s plans for land acquisition. Over the years since the land was left out of the reservation, the nation had sued and won in court, but had never been offered what it considered a fair settlement for the land. Now the nation hoped that the land would be returned to them so they could manage some of it for timber and use the funds to buy other private parcels, especially in areas key to resource management. In 1988, after long negotiations, Congress transferred the north-boundary land back to the Quinault Nation, which specifically agreed to use timber harvest revenues to buy lands within the reservation borders.

Which is how the story would have ended, had not two feathered species reminded everyone that some of these north-boundary lands were valuable above all else for their natural and habitat values.

Murrelets, Owls, and an Easement for the North Boundary

“Originally we were going to utilize some of this timber for the benefit of the nation, to help fund our land acquisition program,” says David Martin, who was vice president of the nation at the time. But in the early 1990s, the forestland was identified as important habitat for spotted owls and marble murrelets, endangered species dependent on Northwest old-growth forests. “That was where this whole thing got started,” Martin says, referring to negotiations that would ultimately lead to a conservation easement on the land.

While the spotted owl became a poster animal for forest conservation, the marbled murrelet is less well known. Feeding many miles out at sea, these small, football-shaped, black-and-white birds nest in the north-boundary old growth, torpedoing up the canyons to their nest sites on short stubby wings each night. The discovery of the birds put an end to the nation’s plans to harvest portions of the north-boundary area—if only because it would have been inconsistent with their own long-term efforts to be good stewards of the land.

“The north-boundary easement was the biggest headache in my entire life,” says Pearl Capoeman-Baller, then tribal chair. While the nation wanted to see the land protected, it also wanted to recover the value it felt it was owed by being deprived of the land for more than 130 years. A preservation agreement—an easement—would reimburse the nation for the land’s protection. “But this was easier said than done,” says Capoeman-Baller. Many questions needed to be resolved, including how much a conservation easement across the land might be worth. Repeatedly Capoeman-Baller sent David Martin back to Washington for negotiations, to no avail.

In March 1999, the Department of the Interior and the Quinault Nation asked TPL for help. “TPL understood what we were trying to do,” says Capoeman-Baller. Fully six years later, in 2005, TPL, QIN, and the federal government negotiated an easement to protect the largest nonpublic block of old-growth forest west of the Cascade Mountains, at last resolving a dispute that had begun during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant.

“Everyone benefits,” then-interior secretary Gale Norton said at the time. “The public gets conservation of sensitive forest habitat for a threatened species. The Quinault retain sovereignty over their land and gain support for their economic development. And Interior fulfills its responsibilities for tribal development and conservation of threatened species.”

“Resolving the northern boundary dispute was one of the more challenging projects I have worked on in my years in Congress,” says Congressman Norm Dicks, who worked tirelessly in support of the settlement. “Never-theless, resolving the dispute was critically important for natural resource management as well as for assuring equitable compensation for the tribe. In the end we were able to protect the old-growth habitat along the border through this settlement, which resolved the longstanding dispute and provided fair compensation to the Quinault Tribe.”

A Greenprint for the Quinault

Settling the north-boundary dispute left the Quinault with a payment, a problem, and a potential partner in TPL. The $32.2 million the tribe received as part of the agreement, a portion of which was raised privately by TPL, will help buy back private lands within the reservation. But which lands should be acquired for sustainable timber harvesting, fisheries protection, conservation of cultural resources, and economic development? Over the years, the nation had collected a lot of data about reservation resources, but it had no way of visualizing that data or weighing the relative importance of difference resources on different sections of land. Perhaps most important, it had no way of visualizing nontribal landownership on the reservation, or how such ownership overlapped land that might be acquired for resource protection and management.

As TPL staff learned about the nation’s needs and goals, it became clear that GIS greenprinting could provide the models and maps they needed to visualize reservation resources and acquisition opportunities. Under contract with the nation, TPL also furnished tribal members with training in acquisition real estate and legal skills, as well as an online database of additional public and private funding sources that might be available for tribal land acquisition.

“This partnership is not just about getting the nation the compensation due for the north boundary property,” TPL senior vice president Bowen Blair told the tribal council before the greenprint presentation. “It’s also about training, and the greenprint, and funding. It’s about protecting culture, conservation, and economic development.”

At the presentation, Breece Robertson stood before a screen showing an ever-changing map of the reservation. Colors spread along the coast, up the river bottoms, over the mountains, showing lands necessary for timber, wildlife habitat, water quality, and salmon habitat. In all, the Quinault Greenprint includes 43 separate models in eight categories. “We took what you told us was important to you and your reservation and translated it into the GIS framework,” Robertson said.

Later, meeting attendees stood in turn to thank the tribal and TPL GIS experts. “The creator gave us air, land, and water,” said Chuck Sams, director of TPL’s Tribal & Native Lands program. “We have a covenant to protect, preserve, and enhance those gifts.”

Years of work lie ahead for the Quinault as they work to rebuild their land base for the future. But it will be worth the effort, as Pearl Capoeman-Baller told the group. “The whole goal of this work is the preservation of this land. You can’t think in 20 years, you can’t think in 50 years. We have to think longer than that if we are going to preserve this land for our children.”

William Poole, Trust for Public Land