Attn: Tribal Leaders

The USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region values our relationship with tribes.  We understand the tribes immediate focus is community health and safety and many of their offices and staff are temporarily unavailable.   In recognition of the current challenges we wanted to share information on the following:  Current status of Region 5 forest closures, tribal consultation, Section 106 consultation, NAGPRA, partnership projects, accessing sacred sites and the collection of forest products for ceremonial use. 

current status: R5 forest closes developed recreation sites

The Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service, in response to the recent statewide shelter-in-place order issued by the Governor of California, is joining the cause to aggressively mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by closing developed recreation facilities on our National Forests statewide. “Developed recreation sites” refers to designated recreational use areas designed to facilitate public use. This order will close key recreational facilities such as campgrounds, day use sites, and picnic areas as these are attractions that draw large numbers of people and require significant management oversight, especially during the high-use conditions now being realized.

While designated recreation sites will be closed, the general Forest area including the extensive trail system will remain open and available to the public.

Closures of developed recreation facilities are being put in place until at least April 30th to avoid groups of people and promote social distancing of staying more than six feet apart. Please check the forest websites for closure updates.


Heritage Program Managers (HPM) in the 18 National Forests in California are currently working with each Tribe that has interests in their Forest to address any questions or concerns they may have regarding heritage resource protection and consultation under Section 106 of the NHPA for their Forest. All communications are conducted remotely, via emails and phone calls, in compliance to the California Governor’s “Shelter in Place” orders, as well as Regional guidance. Tribes are encouraged to continue to submit comments and questions regarding heritage resource protection to the Forest’s HPMs via email or phone during this period.


Selected project work will continue Forests during this period, where appropriate.  When there is an inadvertent discovery of human remains, the Forest will notify the appropriate Tribes per NAGPRA (43 CFR part 10). HPMs and all Forest personnel will treat ancestral remains and associated funerary objects with respect, stop work, and secure the discovery area according to the agreed-upon NAGPRA work plan.  In-person tribal engagement and on-site visitation regarding inadvertent discoveries may be delayed due to the COVID19 restrictions; HPMs will work with tribes and be guided by principals of respect in addressing these situations.


Partnership Projects

While we understand that tribes are focused on community needs, it may still be possible to continue planning, and in some cases carry out, partnership projects with individual Forests if all parties are available for project work.  Project planning can continue while conditions evolve, with the full understanding that implementation of partnership projects may be delayed as needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects will be designed in order to keep crews safe and following recommendations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any partnership projects that go forward will be negotiated on the local level with forests and crews.


Accessing Sacred Sites and the Collection of Forest Products for Ceremonial USE (per Executive Order 13007 & American Indian Relgious Freedom Act)

Region 5 has begun an orderly closure of some developed recreation sites starting on Monday, March 23, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Region recognizes the importance of providing access to collect forest products and access to sacred sites and places important to tribes.  The orderly closure does not preclude tribes from accessing Forest lands.  You may continue to utilize open Forest roads and trails. 

Many Forests in California have closed developed recreation sites and you may experience limited availability to resources while on Forest lands.  We do want to acknowledge the importance of maintaining access to sacred sites and sacred places for all tribes. Please reach out to your local Forest and Heritage/Tribal Program Manager to ensure you are following appropriate protocol.  Each unit has a process that can help facilitate the collection of forest products for ceremonial use.

We are also authorizing line officers to allow other than the person initially named to gather Special Forest Products and Botanicals on behalf of another person. This is important if someone is gathering Special Forest Products and Botanicals on behalf of an elderly person or a person with other health conditions. This authorization is only for personal use and does not provide authority for sale/re-sale of Special Forest Products and Botanicals. Law Enforcement is working cooperatively with Forest Management to make this program work for the benefit of those most in need.

Attached is a list of Heritage/Tribal Program Managers for each Forest in the Region.  The Forest Service is closing their offices and implementing virtual services to protect the health and safety of employees and members of the public during the COVID-19 outbreak. Check the individual Forest websites for information about online services being offered at this time.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Forest Tribal Program Managers if there is an immediate need regarding access or other services. 

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