An en banc panel of the Ninth U.S. District Court of Appeals has upheld an Indian tribe's right to regulate timber harvesting on privately owned land within an Indian reservation. The ruling was a reversal of a ruling issued last year by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, and an affirmation of the district court's original decision (see CP&DR Legal Digest, November 2000).
The case involved a small timber harvest in the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Humboldt County. The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council determined that Roberta Bugenig, a non-Indian who owns fee title property within the reservation, could not harvest trees on her land, which is near a ceremonial site.
Bugenig sued in federal court, arguing that the Tribal Council did not have jurisdiction over her property. U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken ruled for the tribe. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed Wilken, holding that Congress did not give specific authority to the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
But in an 8-3 ruling, a full panel of Ninth Circuit judges reversed the decision again. In the latest ruling, the court held that the congressionally approved Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act of 1988 gave the Hoopa Valley Tribe's constitution the full force of law. The tribe's constitution makes clear that the Tribe has jurisdiction over all lands within the confines of its reservation established in 1876, the court also held. Bugenig's land falls within those confines.
The case is Roberta Bugenig v. Hoopa Valley Tribe, No. 99-15654, 01 C.D.O.S. 7999 and was filed on September 11, 2001.