San Manuel discusses possible land deal with San Bernardino National Forest

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The Indian Band of the San Manuel Mission is in talks with officials of the San Bernardino National Forest over the potential “reclamation” of parts of the forest adjacent to the tribal reserve.

Neither the Forest Service nor the tribe have identified specific plots of land under discussion. However, the proposal rekindles the concerns of some environmentalists about the millions of gallons of public water taken by Nestlé and its successor company, BlueTriton, from Strawberry Creek, which runs through the forest and joins East Twin Creek near the Arrowhead Springs Hotel. that the tribe bought. in 2016. The hotel is north of the town of San Bernardino.

Lee Clauss, vice president of cultural and natural resources at San Manuel, said the tribe has entered into talks with the Forest Service, but did not have details of the specific plots that a transaction might involve or whether it would include the Strawberry Creek area.

Retired US Forest Service biologist Steve Loe told the Desert Sun tribal officials sent a “letter of initiation” to forest officials, asking them to begin the process of transferring or exchanging plots. with them ; however, he did not have a copy.A tribal spokesperson was seeking the letter for The Desert Sun, but Monday afternoon had not sent it.

Forest spokesman Zachary Behrens said he could not comment on any ongoing discussions. He said trades and transfers of land have taken place in the past, but usually through an act of Congress. For example, when Big Bear Disposal Inc. wanted to expand, it traded forest land for other plots through special legislation.

He added that the general process, which includes an environmental scan with the option of public comment, can take up to two years. Once a formal analysis begins, more details will be announced, he said.

Nestlé’s story with Strawberry Creek

Loe and environmental activist Amanda Frye have fought Nestlé for almost seven years and nowBlueTriton, which recently acquired Nestlé’s North American water operations. The companies drew water from the forest for their Arrowhead label. Last week Loe and Fryemet via Zoom with the new San Bernardino Forest Supervisor, Danelle Harrison, and other forestry officials.

Environmentalists have questioned the possibilityland transfer or trade, and Harrison and Ranger Joe Rechsteiner both confirmed they were in the early stages of talks with the tribe, Loe and Frye said.

“They were amazed that we knew that,” Frye said.

“They said they had received an initiation letter from the tribe, asking to consider a land swap, and they said all the information they had at the moment was very preliminary,” said Loe. “But we were specifically asking about Strawberry Creek, because we know the area around it is tied to the land the tribe bought.”

In a written statement, BlueTriton said, “Any questions about the ongoing real estate or ownership discussions between the San Manuel Mission Indian Band and the US Forest Service should be directed to these parties. BlueTriton Brands is not involved in the discussions described and is not aware of any details which these entities may or may not discuss. It would not be appropriate for us to comment on assumptions about the implications of potential land deals in which we are not involved.

Water flows through Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest in October 2017.

BlueTriton continues to deliver millions of gallons of water from Strawberry Creek. Staff at the state’s water resources control board said in April Nestlé had no legal rights to much of the water it abstracted, and said because the operations are the same under Blue Triton, the conclusion also applies to them.

Water agency staffissued a draft order telling them to “cease and desist” from taking water. The companies appealed the staff’s finding to the board of directors. A hearing is expected on these issues early next year.

Frye said the streamand the wildlife that depends on it has been severely damaged by the constant diversions.

The San Manuel hotel in its Highland casino is slated to open in late 2021.

No concrete plans, tribal official says

The San Manuel Tribe, with approximately 200 members, is located in San Bernardino County and its reserve encompasses just over a square mile of mostly hilly land. The tribe operates the San Manuel Casino in Highland, which they claim is one of the largest employers in the Inland Empire.

Clauss said the tribe was “still interested” in reclaiming land on their much larger ancestral territory. San Manuel takes its “stewardship responsibilities” for this general territory very seriously, regardless of who “owns the deed,” she said.

Regarding the details of an exchange or acquisition, Clauss said there are many different options and the tribe is assessing what the forest service “would be open to”.

“The forest is their neighbor to the north of the reserve,” she said. “So whenever the tribe thinks of additional land that is immediately adjacent to the reserve… [and] what this can bring in terms of options for the tribe for the needs of their own community, they will talk to their neighbors. “

San Manuel is aware of the culturally important and sacred lands outside the boundaries of its current reserve but within its ancestral territory, Clauss said, and “is looking for these opportunities so that we can bring them home”.

“It’s about doing whatever they can to reclaim resources that help them maintain their sovereignty and sufficiency… things like food sovereignty, things like climate change adaptation, fire management. forest – these are all very important things for the community, ”she said. noted.

Clauss said that to his knowledge no specific use has been foreseen for the pitch at this stage. At this point in the conversation, it would be “far too early” for these details. She is also unaware of any conversations between the tribe and Nestlé.

Activist Amanda Frye walks under the Nestlé water line in the San Bernardino National Forest on October 11, 2017.

Biologist: Any plan “must be very public”

Loe and Frye said their overall discussion with Harrison, the Forest Service Supervisor, was excellent, and they were delighted that she was interested in the historical documents on the appearance and flow of Strawberry Creek, and the possible restoration of Strawberry Creek. this watershed and others for the habitat of endangered species. fish that once swam and spawned in several streams in the forest.

“If the USFS can restore the sources and flow of the creek, by replanting alders along the creek, then everyone will benefit, including the San Manuel tribe and all downstream users,” Frye said. “Like everyone in America, the tribe can hike and enjoy Strawberry Creek. Giving the USFS Strawberry Creek area because of a bad or corrupt backdoor deal, then everyone loses.”

Behrens could not confirm details of the conversation to The Desert Sun, and said Harrison was not immediately available for comment.

Loe said there could be land swaps that would provide even stronger protections to Strawberry Creek. He said, for example, that if the tribe was willing to cede to the forest any part of Strawberry and East Twin creeks on their land in exchange for flatter forest service land that they could use elsewhere, or even for the point. iconic landmark of the arrowhead in a nearby mountain. slope, which would benefit streams and the wildlife that depend on them.

“There are very significant private land parcels along portions of Strawberry Creek, Coldwater / East Twin that would be important for the Forest Service to acquire if there was any trade,” said Loe. “The Forest Service should not abandon any part of the few perennial streams it manages for the public in Southern California.”

“But the bottom line is that it is all very public. It cannot be done behind closed doors,” he said. “That’s what worries us, so let’s talk about it and talk about it, and maybe there are ways to do both: give more property to the tribe and give more protection to the forest. “

Following:Nestlé has no valid rights to the water it bottles, California officials say

Following:Bottled water giant Nestle tells California regulators it has the right to keep water running

Frye said she believed a land transfer or swap would be “totally inappropriate.”

“Why would the USFS give land to a small, wealthy tribe when the land is used to protect the forest watershed from municipal water sources that benefit the public of the San Bernardino Valley, including underprivileged communities? like San Bernardino? ” she said. “The tribe can buy land.”

When the tribe bought the Arrowhead Hotel in 2016San Manuel spokesman Jacob Coin told the San Bernardino Sun that the tribe’s current reserve lands are running out of space and they need new land for the young tribe members to build. houses and for other projects.

“It is the wish and the dream of the tribe to have as much of this homeland in their possession as possible,” Coin told The Sun.

Janet Wilson is a senior environmental reporter for The Desert Sun and writes USA Today’s Climate Point newsletter. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ janetwilson66.

Amanda Ulrich covers tribal communities in Southern California for The Desert Sun as a member of the Report for America corps. Contact us on Twitter at @AmandaCUlrich.

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