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Tulalip Tribes honor retiring Forest Service supervisor for his partnership in their stewardship

From left, Tulalip Tribal Board members Chuck James, Don Hatch Jr., Mark Hatch, Marlin Fryberg Jr. and Marie Zackuse present a ceremonial paddle to retiring regional Forest Service Supervisor Rob Iwamoto, with the help of Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr., on Dec. 2. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Tulalip Tribal Board members Chuck James, Don Hatch Jr., Mark Hatch, Marlin Fryberg Jr. and Marie Zackuse present a ceremonial paddle to retiring regional Forest Service Supervisor Rob Iwamoto, with the help of Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr., on Dec. 2.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

TULALIP — The Tulalip Tribes honored retiring regional Forest Service Supervisor Rob Iwamoto on Friday, Dec. 2, for his six years of working with the Tribes to protect their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Iwamoto also worked with the Tulalip Tribes to help ensure conservation and access to these resources.

"We worked through those processes over time," said Iwamoto, who's marked almost 35 years in the U.S. Forest Service. "It's about what's most appropriate for all involved. I've worked with other tribes, and everyone's needs are different."

"Rob is a great listener," said Libby Halpin Nelson, environmental policy analyst for the Treaty Rights Office of the Natural Resources Department of the Tulalip Tribes, who serves as a liaison to the U.S. Forest Service. "The Tribes were using these forest for their cedar already, but he helped foster better communication and partnership in the forests' stewardship between the Forest Service and the Tribes, who have a lot in common interests. They both want to see these resources sustained."

Tulalip Tribal Chair Mel Sheldon Jr. explained that what's now the managed as the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is within traditional territories where the Tribes and their ancestors have been hunted, fished and gathered herbs, medicines and food, for ceremonial and spiritual purposes, for thousands of years. He praised Iwamoto for working to understand the Tribes' treaty rights on those lands, and to assist in translating them into actions that will aid the Tribes in continuing their culture.

"We've been very honored to work with you," Sheldon said. "You've respected our government, and even when faced with tough problems, you've always found solutions to them. I wish you weren't retiring, because you're leaving behind big shoes to fill, but you've also left us with some great memories."

Among the achievements during Iwamoto's tenure was the development of a Memorandum of Agreement, between the Tulalip Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service, to improve communications and work together to steward the resources and places of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest that are vital to the Tribes' culture. This came after Iwamoto and his staff took the Tribes up on their invitation to meet the Tribes' Natural and Cultural Resources staff in 2005, to hear their ideas and concerns regarding the Forest Service's management of the National Forest lands.

"It was more than just a set of lofty goals," Halpin Nelson said. "It specifically worked to address those management concerns, and led to yearly meetings between the Forest Serve and the Tribes to solicit the latter's input."

"We dealt with the Tribes on a government-to-government level," Iwamoto said. "Both parties want to make sure we continue to have clear water, clean air, wildlife, forest products and fisheries, but no one can accomplish this on their own. I've cherished the partnership we've developed."

To reflect the cultural legacy that they credited Iwamoto with helping them to carry forward into the future, the Tulalip Tribal Board presented him with a ceremonial paddle by Mitch Metta and Joe Gobin, which features a squid design that's more than 150 years old. The paddle was carved from cedar arrested from the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, can be used for canoeing and is intended to wish Iwamoto the best on his continued journey.

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