The Tulare County Board of Supervisors hosted its annual meeting with Tule River Tribal Council on July 20, with the tree mortality epidemic, water and the drought, and ambulance service receiving the most attention.
“It’s good to keep open communication between the Tule River Tribe and Tulare County,” said Tribal Chair Neil Peyron before the meeting. “We update each other on the different projects we have, and if we need the other’s assistance. It’s more of an informational session.”
All five county supervisors and three tribal leaders were in attendance at the meeting, the latest in a series of meetings that have been held at least annually for the past five years. The supervisors and tribal council take turns hosting the meetings.
Supervisor Steven Worthley started the discussion about the tree mortality epidemic by stating that there are an estimated 8.1 million dead trees in Tulare County’s parks and forests, by far the most in any county in the state.
A major infestation of bark beetles is killing the trees, which, as a result of the drought, are unable to produce the levels of sap required to repel the beetles. The millions of dead trees in the county threaten power lines and mountain roads, and are a potential source of fuel for fires. The Tule River Tribe’s land includes large forests.
“To the best of our knowledge, the (U.S.) Forest Service is just knocking trees down – when they have the manpower,” Worthley said. “They’re only taking down trees if there is a danger of trees falling down on roads or power lines. They’re not taking down trees in the national forest, and they don’t even get into the wilderness area.”
He added that a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Congress that would encourage the Forest Service to do more timber sales, but “there are two major obstacles for us: there is only one sawmill and we have no home for these trees.
“When we first approached the Forest Service, they gave us this spiel that, ‘We have all these projects,’” said Worthley. “It’s been difficult to get the people in the agency to treat this as an emergency.”
He suggested that tribal communities throughout the state “can be of assistance” in influencing state leaders on this issue.
When attention turned to water issues, Peyron explained current efforts to gather and store water on tribal land.
“We’ve got it down to a science now,” he said. “We’re trying to raise the dam to 12’.”
He also reported that, “our wastewater treatment plant is working very well. We’re also looking at having a solar farm.”
The meeting then focused on “fee to trust,” the process by which the tribe acquires additional county land for its growing population. The tribe is only interested in properties that are adjacent to the reservation, according to Peyron.
“We have to provide services so we’re trying to keep it close,” he explained.
Peyron presented an update on the hotel, casino and convention center being built in Porterville. The facility will have 250 rooms and 20,000 square feet of actual convention space. He also noted that a company from Turkey had approached tribal leaders about building a plant to manufacture shotguns on the reservation, but that the idea “was sitting on a back burner.”
Ambulance service has been available on Tule River Tribe land for eight years, but anyone who needs emergency medical attention faces an additional problem.
“If there is an emergency, (our ambulances) can stabilize the patient, but we have to wait (for another ambulance) at the boundary of the reservation,” said Peyron, adding that he would like supervisors and tribal leaders to meet again “to come up with some sort of agreement” to eliminate this delay.
Before the meeting adjourned for lunch in the conference room, Supervisor Allen Ishida offered the board’s assistance to the tribal leaders.
“If there’s any issue you have in Sacramento that it would help to have a supervisor there, we’re available,” he said.
On behalf of the tribal council, Peyron offered the same assistance to the supervisors.