January 27, 2022
A conservation group is returning guardianship of hundreds of acres of redwood forestland to a coalition of Native tribes that were displaced from the land generations ago by European American settlers, reports NPR.
Save the Redwoods League purchased the 523-acre area (known as Andersonia West) on the Lost Coast of California’s Menodcino County in July 2020.The group announced on Tuesday, January 25, that it had donated and transferred ownership of the property to the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council—a consortium of 10 Northern California tribal nations focused on environmental and cultural preservation.
The forest will be renamed Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ—which means “fish run place” in the Sinkyone language—as “an act of cultural empowerment and a celebration of Indigenous resilience,” the league said in a release. The tribal council has granted it a conservation easement, meaning use of the land will be limited for its own protection.
“Renaming the property Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ lets people know that it’s a sacred place; it’s a place for our Native people. It lets them know that there was a language and that there was a people who lived there long before now,” said Crista Ray, a tribal citizen of the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians and a board member of the Sinkyone Council. She is of Eastern Pomo, Sinkyone, Cahto, Wailaki, and other ancestries.
According to NPR, the league’s 2020 purchase of the forest cost $3.55 million and was fully funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (the utility, which has been behind multiple deadly wildfires, supports habitat conservation programs to mitigate other environmental damage it has caused).
Establishing Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ supports meeting the power company’s 30-year conservation goals, which the league says were developed alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency also approved the long-term management and stewardship plan for the property.
Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ is home to ancient trees, important bodies of water and a variety of endangered species. It comprises 200 acres of old-growth coast redwoods and 1.5 miles of Anderson Creek, a stream and tributary of the South Fork Eel River.
“Second-growth redwoods, Douglas-firs, tanoaks, and madrones also tower over a lush understory of huckleberries, elderberries, manzanitas, and ceanothuses,” as the league describes it. This habitat supports endangered species like the northern spotted owl, steelhead trout, coho salmon, marbled murrelet and yellow-legged frog.
The council and the league say their partnership will protect the environment by preventing habitat loss, commercial timber operations, construction, and other development.
They plan to rely on a mix of Indigenous place-based land guardianship principles, conservation science, climate adaptation, and fire resiliency concepts to heal and preserve the area.
“We believe the best way to permanently protect and heal this land is through tribal stewardship,” said Sam Hodder, resident and CEO of Save the Redwoods League. “In this process, we have an opportunity to restore balance in the ecosystem and in the communities connected to it, while also accelerating the pace and scale of conserving California’s iconic redwood forests.”
People involved with the partnership stress that it’s not just the protection of the land that matters — it’s also the restoration of the property to descendants of its original inhabitants.
Notably, the Sinkyone Council has designated Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ as a tribal protected area. “This designation recognizes that this place is within the Sinkyone traditional territory, that for thousands of years it has been and still remains an area of importance for the Sinkyone people, and that it holds great cultural significance for the Sinkyone Council and its member tribes,” said Priscilla Hunter, a tribal citizen of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and chairwoman of the Sinkyone Council.
Returning farmland to Yakama Nation is a step toward self-sufficiency tribes once had: It joins another 180,000 acres of conserved lands along the Sinkyone coast, the release notes. The council hopes that the acquisition will continue expanding the network of adjacent protected lands with similar ecosystems and cultural histories.
Research contact: NPR