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Sacred Tree in Ravalli County Becomes Center of Dispute Between Federal and Local Land Management

Department of the Interior
Photo courtesy of NCinDC/Flickr

A sacred tree in Ravalli county has become the center of a land dispute between the Salish-Kootenai Tribe, The Department of the Interior, and Ravalli County Commissioners.

The tree, known as the medicine tree, is located near highway 93. The land it is on is owned by the Salish-Kooteni Tribe, but they would like to transfer management of that land to the federal government. Ravalli County Commissioner J.R. Iman explains why the commissioners filed an appeal opposing the transfer on Wednesday, May 29.

“We objected,” Iman said. “Basically this is private ownership. The tribe can own a piece of ground outside the reservation just like anybody else, and they pay taxes on it. The physical situation if this ground gets transferred to the federal government on behalf of the Indian tribes then we lose a taxable value to the citizens of Ravalli county.”

If the transfer goes through, the tree along with 58 acres will be managed by the federal government. Iman says the Federal government already manages too much land in Ravalli and that programs like Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) will not make up for the lost taxed value of the property.

“What happens is they can say ‘Well, it’s a discretionary funding source,’ and they don’t have to pay it,” Iman said. “At this point in time over 72 percent of Ravalli county is owned by federal agencies.”

The issue of federal payments to counties adjacent to federal land is extremely sensitive now after the end of the year sequestration agreement dried up many of those funds.

The yearly taxable value of the land is estimated at $800.

J.R. Iman

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