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Two Forests Under the Big Sky: Tribal v. Federal Management

  • Alison Berry

    In this policy series, Alison Berry continues her work on the quality of forests that result under different management schemes. She contrasts side-by-side forests in Montana. One is operated by the United States Forest Service under the watchful eye of Congress. The other is run by Indian tribes on reservation lands. The Indians win this battle.

    Berry shows that the tribes manage their land more efficiently for timber production and for ecological value. On both the cost and output side of the equation, the tribes do a better job. This is not because Indians are born to appreciate the environment more than people who work for the Forest Service. As Berry explains, the tribes need forest productivity to support their livelihood. The Forest Service is a federal bureaucracy.

    There is a lesson to be learned here. Congressional policies controlling the massive areas of timber land are not producing good results no matter how they are measured. A for-profit lesson from the Native Americans is in order.


    Why is it that neighboring forests of similar size and makeup produce different economic and environmental outputs? In this essay, Alison Berry again demonstrates PERC’s unique ability to analyze how different governance structures, and their inherent incentive systems, impact the ability of land managers to achieve their objectives. The comparison Berry provides between federal and tribal forest management is a clever way to demonstrate what works, what doesn’t, and why.

    — Doug Crandall
    Director, Legislative Affairs, USDA Forest Service

    Two Forests in the Big Sky strikes deep at the heart of everything that is wrong with the way our national forests are being managed today—and everything that is right about the way Indians manage their forests. I’ve said for years that it is time for America to give its federal forests back to the tribes from whom these once beautiful lands were taken more than a century ago. Alison Berry’s essay only adds to my belief.

    — Jim Peterson
    Co-founder and Executive Director, Evergreen Foundation

    Download the full report, including endnotes and references.

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