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Can two men save thousands of acres of Kitsap Peninsula forest?

Port Gamble and its surrounding forests have been logging territory for more than a century. Owner Pope Resources is willing to strike a deal with local tribes that would conserve thousands of acres of forestland. If the two sides can agree on terms.
A canoe full of Suquamish tribal members begin their long journey to Port Gamble and the S'klallam.

A canoe full of Suquamish tribal members begin their long journey to Port Gamble and the S'klallam. Photo: Flickr user sarahruthvg

Singers from the S'klallam tribe.

Singers from the S'klallam tribe. WSDOT

A logging operation in Port Gamble.

A logging operation in Port Gamble. Photo: Flickr user brewbooks

Port Gamble's Walker-Ames House.

Port Gamble's Walker-Ames House. Photo: Flickr user brewbooks

The Indian chief and the timber agent meet near the shores of Port Gamble Bay. The spring air is cool and breezy along this small and sheltered nook of northwest Washington's Puget Sound. Inside the room where the two men sit side-by-side, the atmosphere is civil, yet tense, as they discuss their separate visions for the bay and forests of the Kitsap Peninsula.

One man speaks up: We have investments here and need to protect our assets and our members' interests. The other responds: We have been here a long time, and have history with the land. We've been patient with your demands. We want to protect the forests and the bay.

It sounds like a classic historical encounter between a colonial leader and a tribal chieftain. But this is not the 19th century: It's April 2012, and the man pleading for the land is Jon Rose, president of the property group of Pope Resources, a successor to the timber barons who built an empire here. By the early 1900s, the company controlled much of the forest around the bay and built a corporate fortune, displacing Native Americans from their fishing and hunting grounds. The former hub of the company's operations is a shuttered mill, built on the site of an ancestral Port Gamble S'Klallam village.

The other man, Jeromy Sullivan, is chairman of the tribe displaced from that site. The Port Gamble S'Klallam's history here reaches back more than a thousand years. Like other Northwestern tribes, they barely survived Euro-American settlement. Today, the tribe counts nearly 1,200 members, about half of whom live on a 1,700-acre reservation directly across the bay from the mill. Inside the tribal council chambers, where Rose and Sullivan are meeting at my request, Pacific Northwest Native artwork hangs on the walls in stark contrast with black-and-white photos of the mill's early days.

Pope Resources is selling off its last 7,000 acres on the northern end of the peninsula, as forestry declines and local towns become Seattle bedroom communities. The company hopes to broker a deal with conservation and recreational groups and local and tribal governments to keep most of its forests, shorelines and trails undeveloped and open to the public. It's also paying to clean up a century's worth of mill pollution in the bay, and trying to redevelop the neighboring historic company town so it can pay its own bills. "It's been a goal of mine and our company that our time on the bay ends on a positive note," Rose says, "but it's much more challenging than I ever realized."

That's because 160 years after local Indians were uprooted, the Port Gamble S'Klallam have turned the tables. Using local, state and federal laws to protect treaty rights entitling them to fish and shellfish in the bay, they have defeated development proposals, swayed negotiations on cleanup plans, and even stalled conservation opportunities that hinge on more growth. Any more development could harm the bay, Sullivan says, and the tribe must protect the fisheries that many of its members still depend on.

Their resistance is part of a larger cultural movement to halt additional losses to fishing grounds protected by federal treaties, says Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 western Washington tribes. A recent commission report notes that despite state and federal species recovery programs, projected growth around Seattle and other threats will make things worse for salmon and shellfish -- turning forests into subdivisions, and thereby increasing runoff pollution and hurting water quality.

If the company and the tribe can agree, Rose says, one of the last productive bays along Puget Sound will be protected, serving as an example of how multiple partners can save large forest landscapes in Washington. If not, then Pope has decided to simply sell its lands to the highest bidders, and the tribe may be forced to test the power of its treaty rights in court. This might be the last opportunity for the longtime rivals to establish real trust, putting history aside and crafting a common vision for this place –– one that honors its past while protecting its future.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I hope Pope, the S'Klallam, and Kitsap folks can get most of that land into conservation status. It's a tremendous opportunity.

Thanks for the reporting.

louploup

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 8:49 p.m. Inappropriate

This is one of Crosscut's best articles ever: knowledgeable, well-researched, balanced, with an accurate sense of history. And it's about something other than the dreary minutiae of Seattle City Hall politics. Kitsap County may seem far off because it's a ferry ride away. But you can stand on the shoreline at Suquamish and look across the bay at the Seattle skyscrapers.

woofer

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 11:53 p.m. Inappropriate

There's no turning back the clock and when both sides continue to play the history cards as though the cards are somehow the most accurate portrayal of the past, well it isn't going to resolve the issue. This is so typical of the way Indians and whites interact about issues. Both nod their heads and mouth the words out loud "I understand" but under their breath they add "I don't believe or trust you".

I, for one, want the water cleaned up and I don't care who does it, just do it. But I don't believe for one minute that the future of the waterfront land in question, if passed into Indian hands, won't be turned into a casino resort area. Indians aren't stupid and they realize with the right piece of property there's a ton of money to be milked from "us". This is that right piece of property. There's a bigger payoff from a casino then a clam bed. Sure they'll manage the resources but they won't pass up the chance to go greenback. It's called a diverse income portfolio.

Djinn

Posted Mon, Dec 3, 12:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Dear louploup, woofer and others who enjoyed this story -- this story was original reporting and writing paid for and published by High Country News, a nonprofit independent newsmagazine that's been covering the American West for more than 40 years. The story originally appeared here:
https://www.hcn.org/issues/44.20/a-washington-tribe-and-a-timber-company-wrestle-over-a-forests-future

You'll find more great news, analysis and stories at hcn.org. Thanks for reading. Sincerely, Jodi Peterson, High Country News Managing Editor

Posted Mon, Dec 3, 6:43 p.m. Inappropriate

I htink Djinn is right.

I personally feel very uncomfortable with the continued "different" worlds of the native Americans vs. the rest of us interlopers. And, no, it doesn't make sense for us to go back, we can't undo that either.

But I look at casinos as a money maker, but they do nothing to enhance the so-called native ways of life. This is 2012. It's time to come together, and ensure equal opportunity in lives and careers for all of our children.

Posted Mon, Dec 3, 11:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Most Indians are heavy gamblers, it's been part of the culture long before we showed up. I've had presentations and show me tours cancelled because the elders wanted the bus for a trip to tribe XVR to play bone games. Some of the tours were to examine salmon enhancement methods on their reservation. Didn't matter.

To be fair not all tribes are this way but they are small in number, maybe less then 25%. Given the close proximity to large population centers, this property has casino written all over it.

Djinn

Posted Sat, Dec 8, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

These threads always seem to degenerate into petty stereotypical rants , and cynical statements that take the low road. Development is development, and if we are going to allow the incremental removing of natural habitat to continue, then the water quality and wildlife will continue to decline. If we protect our remaining shoreline, and clean up the industrial waste, then the environment will start to recover. Right now we are all losing, because when it is the environment V making money... We allow making money to dictate our decisions.
We're gambling with losing the whole ecosystem. All of us.

Blake

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