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Forest Service, Nez Perce Near Free Camping Accord

The U.S. Forest Service and Nez Perce Tribe are nearing an agreement to provide free camping for tribal members at developed campgrounds on five national forests.

Negotiators representing the federal agency and the tribe have been working on the agreement since October. Tribal attorney David Cummings said the Nez Perce first raised the issue nine years ago.

The pact would address the tribe’s treaty rights claims on lands the Nez Perce ceded to the federal government in the treaty of 1855. In exchange for ceding ownership, the tribe reserved rights to hunt, fish, gather food and otherwise use the lands.

The agreement also would exempt tribal members from the fees charged at developed campgrounds, which range from $6 to $15.

Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Samuel Penney wrote to Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck in January, thanking him for progress on the camping pact.

A number of issues need further discussion, Penney said, most focusing on the federal government’s trust responsibility to manage the ceded lands to meet tribal treaty rights.