KUOW: Seattle hikers may be trampling on Tribal treaty rights

Hikers on Rattlesnake Ledge near North Bend, Washington.

Hikers on Rattlesnake Ledge near North Bend, Washington.

by Eilis O'Neill | KUOW/EarthFix June 19, 2018 1:47 p.m. | Updated: June 19, 2018 4:56 p.m. | North Bend, Wash.

At 2 o’clock on a recent Friday afternoon, the parking lot at the Mailbox Peak trailhead was almost full. This much was to be expected: Mailbox is a popular hike in the Middle Fork Valley, just outside of North Bend, Washington.

“I was just glad we got a parking spot,” Jason Gobin, a member of the Tulalip Tribes and their fish and wildlife director, said.

But, when Gobin was a kid, the Middle Fork Valley wasn’t like this. It didn’t have a paved road or fancy outhouses. And there weren’t many hikers. Back then, Gobin and his uncles hunted elk and bears on these lands.

A listener recently wrote to KUOW to ask whether more people are using Washington state’s public lands. Any way you slice it, the answer is yes. More people are buying Discover passes, hiking Washington’s trails and staying at campgrounds.

And, yes, hikers are feeling squeezed by the newfound congestion — but so are the tribes with treaty rights to hunt and gather.

As a teenager, Gobin’s uncles relied on him to haul animals they hunted in the woods back to their truck. It’s easy to picture him packing a deer on his back; Gobin is so tall my arm got tired holding my mic up toward him.

But Gobin said he hasn’t been hunting in the Middle Fork Valley since the 1990s.

“This is an example of an area that just basically got overrun, and now nobody goes up here and really hunts anymore,” he said. “It’s become harder and harder to find areas where you can truly hunt.”

The Tulalip and 20 other tribes in the Puget Sound area have a treaty with the U.S. government that protects their rights to hunt and gather on “open and unclaimed lands.”

When the treaty was signed back in 1855, there were fewer than 12,000 people in all of Washington. Today, there are more than 7 million.

That means the people who signed the treaty thought they were preserving access to sparsely populated lands chock full of huckleberries, elk and cedar trees.

But, today, Washington’s “open and unclaimed lands” are small, shrinking and crowded.

Read the rest of the article by KUOW at https://www.kuow.org/stories/seattle-hikers-you-may-be-trampling-tribal-treaty-rights.

Copyright 2018 KUOW