Colvilles sues the federal government for damage caused by forest fires in 2015
The Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that federal agencies failed to fulfill their legal obligations before, during and after the 2015 wildfires that burned more than 971 square kilometers and transformed parts of the reserve in northeast Washington state into a “lunar landscape.”
The approximately 9,500 members of the Colville tribes depend heavily on income from timber and other natural resources, reported The Spokesman-Review.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, they are seeking compensation after the 2015 fires destroyed about 20% of the reserve’s commercial timber. But Andrew Joseph Jr., chairman of the Colville Business Council, said the damage extended beyond lost income.
“Tribe members hunt, fish, and collect food and medicine throughout the Colville reservation,” Joseph said in a statement. “In many areas, the fires were burning so hot that they sterilized the soil and created a lunar landscape. It will take decades for our resources to fully recover in these areas. “
The lawsuit, filed in the United States Federal Claims Court, comes as wildfires this year continue to devastate the Colville Reservation in eastern Washington.
According to the court record, the loss of 800 million board feet of lumber in the 2015 fires represented “the largest loss of board feet of lumber of all fires on an Indian reservation in recorded history.”
Under federal law, the U.S. government is responsible for managing the health of the forests and providing adequate firefighting resources on the lands it holds in trust on behalf of Native American tribes. The lawsuit argues that the government knew it needed to make the forests on their reserve less susceptible to severe fires by thinning trees and carrying out controlled burns, and that its failure to do so “led to powder magazine conditions in which a catastrophic fire was inevitable “.
Between August and October 2015, the North Star fire burned for 57 days and the Tunk Block fire for 64 days. As they passed through a dense forest, the flames reached 30 meters high, generating extreme heat that caused long-term damage. on the ground, posed a high risk to firefighters and created their own weather systems.