Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation

Department or School/College

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Martin Nie

Commitee Members

Brian C. Chaffin, Monte Mills


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Indigenous, Indian, and Aboriginal Law | Natural Resources Law


Federal public lands in the United States are based on traditional Native American territory and aboriginal title. Some American Indian tribes are pursuing strategies of land restoration and transfer, which can in some instances include the reclassification of federal public lands to tribal trust status through congressional legislation. This research identifies statutes enacted by Congress from 1970 to 2020, extending from the historic return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo to the return of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Each law is assessed to determine common themes and provisions related to post-transfer management. These land administration requirements reflect the management priorities of Congress, the Tribe(s) involved, or both. Statutory provisions related to conservation, traditional purposes, nonmember access, development, consultation, and land use plans emerge as dominant themes. The preservation of valid existing rights is the most recurrent land administration theme among identified transfer legislation. Four laws and cases are analyzed more deeply to provide background, context, and detail: (1) Blue Lake on the Carson National Forest to Taos Pueblo, (2) the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, (3) Chippewa National Forest land to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and (4) the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana. These cases, and the larger catalog of transfer statutes, reveal great variation and complexity while raising important questions about land ownership and control.

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