Facilitating Tribal Co-Management of Federal Public Lands

67 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2021 Last revised: 22 Apr 2022

Date Written: October 27, 2021


Each year Native American tribal nations enter hundreds of federal contracts worth billions of dollars to run federal Indian programs. By substituting tribal governments for federal agencies, these “self-determination contracts” have been enormously successful in improving the effective delivery of federal programs in Indian country. However, tribal governments wish to do more. Tribes wish to co-manage federal public lands, including lands that lie outside their reservations, and they have a lot to offer in this area. For example, a tribe might seek to contract with the Fish & Wildlife Service to operate a wildlife refuge, or with the National Park Service to manage a park or monument or even with the Bureau of Reclamation to operate a federal dam. Tribes are natural partners for much of this work. Many federal units are located on lands that are, or were, tribal aboriginal lands. Although the federal government has had the legal authority to enter such contracts since 1994, federal agencies have been slow to enlist tribes in the management of federal public lands. A review of the few existing successful cases suggests that tribes confront dramatically different dynamics when seeking to contract functions with agencies beyond the Bureau of Indian Affairs or Indian Health Service and other agencies providing services to Indian people. At a time when indigenous-led conservation is crucial to addressing climate change and our national conservation goals, this article examines the obstacles to tribal co-management of public lands and proposes solutions.

Keywords: Tribal, tribal governments, tribal contracting, first nations, Tribes, co-management, public lands, Indian, parks, fish, wildlife, tribe, refuges

Suggested Citation

Washburn, Kevin K., Facilitating Tribal Co-Management of Federal Public Lands (October 27, 2021). 2022 Wis. L. Rev. 263-328 (2022), U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-45, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3951290 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3951290

Kevin K. Washburn (Contact Author)

University of Iowa College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics