The Swinomish bank on bringing back community forest management

The Tribe and Ecotrust will partner to develop new plans for improved forest management and climate change adaptation.

In an age of a changing climate, the Swinomish Tribe is faced with two significant ecological challenges: the Tribe’s home on Fidalgo Island in the Puget Sound is at risk of sea level rise, and, contrary to the stereotypical Western Washington climate, their homeland lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, making it drier and at greater risk of fire.

Widely known as fishermen, the Swinomish also have considerable forest resources, most of which is now checker boarded into a complex array of ownership and forest types. Individual allotments originally established when the Tribe was federally designated are now subdivided across generations of owners often with multiple family members owning small tracts of forests.

This mix makes a landscape approach to forest management complicated and can lead to pressure to harvest timber in locations, quantities, and at times that may not meet the tribal community’s best interest.

Over the next three years, we will be partnering with the Swinomish Tribe in an effort to create a menu of opportunities that would allow them to put ecological forest management practices in place across its 7,500-acre reservation and return revenue to its members.

“Forest conservation and climate change adaptation require new ways of doing business — which could open up new business opportunities.” —Chairman Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

With support from a Natural Resources Conservation Service National Conservation Innovation Grant, we will explore the concept of a “forest bank.” The bank would fund forest management, including restoration, protection, and careful timber harvests, and generate revenue for tribal members and forest owners who are interested in a healthier forest that provides multiple cultural and natural resources to the community. As part of the forest bank model, individual allotment or non-Indian private lands could also transfer carbon, timber, and other land use rights and management authority to the Tribe in exchange for an annual payment.

Over the course of this project, we will support the Tribe in identifying, characterizing, and strategically navigating options for achieving their vision of landscape-level forest management as part of an enduring and climate-resilient community. The Swinomish Tribe is in the process of developing a new Forest Management Plan, and we are using our Forest Planner tool to help develop different management scenarios. The Forest Management Plan update provides an ideal opportunity to establish a new approach to forestry across the reservation that achieves landscape-level outcomes and multiple community benefits.

The newly developed plan will fit within the Tribe’s broader interests, including coordinated management across the mix of ownership types, repatriation of key, private in-holdings within the reservation, and the thoughtful engagement of ecosystem services incentive and market programs. Given the Tribe’s focus on climate change, regulatory and voluntary carbon sequestration programs could play a significant role in the new Forest Management Plan.

An increasing focus on climate change adaptation, habitat protection and restoration, and community engagement can open up new revenue options from rapidly evolving conservation incentive programs and emerging ecosystem service markets. Carbon is one slice of conservation financing that can be layered with several others, such as restoration and conservation incentives and easement programs.

Together, the combination of these conservation financing strategies provide an opening to turn an investment by the Tribe in integrated forest management into an innovative, catalytic, and transferable model for local economic development and climate resilience that is fundamentally based on providing for the enduring wellbeing of the Swinomish land and people.

Photo by Benjamin Drummond