The Navajo Nation's Forests
In 1981 members of the Navajo Nation's own department of forestry produced a series of reports that identified serious concerns in the forests of the Chuska Mountains and Defiance Plateau. These forests had been logged for over 100 years without any serious attempts to mitigate the damage, to replant, or regenerate. Soil was eroding, a huge backlog of replanting was building, and the overall state of forest health was alarming. Ten years later, in 1991, the cutting was still going on unabated, but a group of concerned citizens came together to challenge the timber cutting program.
Thus was born Diné CARE, led in the forestry issue by Adella Begaye and her husband Leroy Jackson. With the support of fourteen local community chapters, all of them from in and around the Chuska Mountains, Diné CARE challenged the Navajo Nation government to re-think its forest policy, and reconsider the viability of the Tribal sawmill enterprise, Navajo Forest Products Industries (NFPI). NFPI had been in operation since the early 1960's, formed at the advice of consultants from the US department of the interior. Despite the fact that the company once enjoyed a reputation as a "model" for Native American enterprise, by the time Diné CARE began to question NFPI's operations, the company was in debt some twenty million dollars.
After a four-year struggle that included much bitterness and the death of our lead activist Leroy Jackson, Diné CARE prevailed on the Navajo Nation to reconsider its forestry policy. The mill closed, mostly under the weight of its own losses, in late 1994. Since then, the forests have been quiet.
Now, the Navajo Nation's department of forestry is suddenly calling for a renewal of timber cutting in the forests. But why? What has changed? No new trees have been planted. No habitats for endangered species such as the Mexican Spotted Owl or the Southern Goshawk have been restored.