[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 69 (Wednesday, April 12, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 17681-17683]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-07417]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Office of the Secretary

[133D5670LC DS10100000 DLCAP0000.000000 WBS DX.10120]


Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations Under Cobell Settlement

AGENCY: Office of the Secretary, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.

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SUMMARY: The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations will host its 
annual Listening Session on April 25, 2017, at the Tulalip Resort 
Casino's hotel in Tulalip, Washington. As described below, the Program 
hopes to receive feedback from tribes and individuals on critical 
issues related to Program implementation, future efforts to reduce land 
fractionation, and its 2016 Status Report.

DATES: The Listening Session will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on 
April 25, 2017, at the Tulalip Resort Casino's hotel in Tulalip, WA.

ADDRESSES: The Listening Session will be held at the Tulalip Resort 
Casino's hotel, 10200 Quil Ceda Blvd., Tulalip, WA 98271. The 2016 
Status Report on the Program is available at https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/2016_buy-back_program_final_0.pdf. Submit written 
feedback on the Program by email to [email protected] or by 
mail to U.S. Department of the Interior Land Buy-Back Program for 
Tribal Nations, 1849 C Street NW., MS-3543, Washington, DC 20240.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tribal staff can contact Michael Estes 
at (202) 642-0912 or at [email protected] with questions 
regarding Program implementation. Landowners should contact the Trust 
Beneficiary Call Center at 1-888-678-6836 with questions or to express 
their interest in Program participation. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay 
Service at 1-800-877-8339 to contact the above individual during normal 
business hours. The Service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a 
week, to leave a message or question with the above individual. You 
will receive a reply during normal business hours.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

I. Background

    The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) is 
the Department of the Interior's (Department) collaborative effort with 
Indian Country to realize the historic opportunity afforded by the 
Cobell Settlement--a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund--to 
compensate individuals who willingly choose to sell fractional land 
interests for fair market value. Consolidated interests are immediately 
restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation 
community and tribal members.
    Since the Program began making offers in December 2013, more than 
$1.1 billion has been paid to landowners, over 680,000 fractional 
interests have been consolidated (representing a 23 percent reduction), 
and the equivalent of nearly 2.1 million acres of land have been 
transferred to tribal governments. Tribal ownership is now greater than 
50 percent in more than 13,500 tracts of land. The Program recently 
released its annual Status Report, which highlights the steps taken to 
date to consolidate fractional interests: (https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/2016_buy-back_program_final_0.pdf).
    The Buy-Back Program's implementation schedule currently includes 
105 locations through mid-2021, which reflects more than 96 percent of 
all landowners with fractional interests and more than 98 percent of 
both the purchasable fractional interests and equivalent acres

[[Page 17682]]

in Program-eligible areas: (https://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/program-implementation-schedule).
    Even with the Program's significant progress to date--and the 
results expected through its congressional funding authorization in 
2022--the resources created by the Cobell Settlement will not be 
sufficient to purchase all fractional interests across Indian Country. 
Sustained Departmental, congressional, and tribal attention will be 
necessary to address fractionation and maximize the value of the land 
base for the benefit of tribal communities.

II. Listening Session Agenda

    The participation and engagement of tribal nations and landowners 
have been critical to the success of the Buy-Back Program, and the 
significant results to date stem directly from that collaboration. The 
purpose of the upcoming Listening Session is to gather input from 
Indian Country on Program implementation, and to discuss steps to 
continue to address fractionation and the challenges it poses for 
tribal sovereignty and effective land use. The Listening Session agenda 
is as follows:

9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.--Landowner Outreach Event (Subject matter experts 
will conduct an informational session to include appraisals, 
acquisitions, and financial education)
9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.--Resource Tables open (Staff available to provide 
information about the Program, register willing sellers, and answer 
landowner questions)
1:00 p.m.--Listening Session begins; Opening Remarks; Program 
Presentation
1:50 p.m.--Comment Period--Tribal Leaders; Comment Period--Individual 
Landowners & General Public
3:30 p.m.--Presentation on Future of Consolidation Work
3:50 p.m.--Comment Period--Tribal Leaders; Comment Period--Individual 
Landowners & General Public
5:00 p.m.--Listening Session ends; Resource Tables re-open
5:30 p.m.--Resource Tables close

III. Seeking Tribal and Individual Input

    Tribal input has been critical to making necessary enhancements to 
the Buy-Back Program. Feedback received from tribes and individuals has 
led directly to many of the measures incorporated since the creation of 
the Program. This includes feedback received from tribal leaders who 
most recently testified during the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs' 
oversight hearing in December 2016 regarding Program implementation 
(https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/dep_sec_testimony_before_scia_2016.pdf).
    The Program intends to make progress in a number of areas over the 
coming year (further explored in the ``Next Steps'' section of the 2016 
Status Report). Tribes, landowners and others may provide written 
feedback on the Buy-Back Program. While the Program welcomes ongoing 
feedback, comments received by May 31, 2017, will be most helpful. 
While feedback is welcome related to any aspect of the Program, the 
following areas are of particular interest:
    1. Locations Where Implementations May Occur. Based on tribal 
feedback, the Program has used various criteria to determine the best 
sequence of implementation, including: Severity of fractionation (a 
location's number of fractionated tracts, interests, and acres); degree 
of ownership overlap between locations or geographic proximity; 
diversity of geographic locations to maximize efficiency, resources, 
and learning opportunities; appraisal complexity; overall interest of 
the tribe as demonstrated through the fiscal year (FY) 2014 open 
solicitation and FY 2016 Planning Initiative periods; number of owners 
who have demonstrated an interest in selling fractional interests; and 
cost and time efficiency.
    The Buy-Back Program's implementation schedule includes 105 
locations through mid-2021. However, the Program continually evaluates 
its resources and progress and will determine whether the schedule 
should be updated, to include adding locations not currently scheduled, 
removing locations on the existing schedule, and/or returning to 
locations where purchase offers have already been sent. This evaluation 
will consider the potential for unused funds reserved for 
implementation costs and whether and how such funds could be used to 
further address fractionation. The Program will actively monitor sales 
and actual or anticipated costs of implementation at less fractionated 
or more complicated locations (e.g., those that involve restricted fee 
interests, unique laws--such as the Five Tribes in Eastern Oklahoma, 
and site-specific appraisals). The Program seeks feedback on what 
factors should be taken into consideration as it plans for future 
implementation with any remaining resources it may have.
    2. Off-Reservation Tracts (e.g., Public Domain). Under the 
Settlement, fractional interests acquired by the Program will be held 
in trust for the tribe with jurisdiction over the land. However, tribal 
jurisdiction over off-reservation allotments may be unclear or even 
disputed. In its 2014 Status Report and Federal Register Notices dated 
November 24, 2014, and March 3, 2015, the Program requested feedback on 
whether and if so, how, the Program should incorporate off-reservation 
tracts, including any suggested standards or processes that could be 
applied. Tribal feedback encouraged the Program to consider acquisition 
of off-reservation interests. The Program's 2016 Status Report states 
that the Program would consider inclusion of off-reservation tracts if 
tribal jurisdiction exists, acquisition meets the Program's 
implementation factors, and resources allow.
    As contemplated in its 2016 Status Report, the Program seeks 
further input on implementation of this policy. First, given the 
Program's limited resources, the Program requests input on the relative 
priority of dedicating financial resources to off-reservation tracts 
when there is a significant amount of fractionated land located within 
reservation boundaries. Prioritizing the Program's limited resources 
toward addressing on-reservation fractional interests may better 
facilitate more efficient administration of the individual Indian trust 
and the longstanding ``policy of the United States to encourage and 
assist the consolidation of land ownership . . . in a manner consistent 
with the policy of maintaining the trust status of allotted lands. . . 
.'' (25 U.S.C. 2216(a)). Second, the Program also requests input on the 
approach the Program will use for determining if tribal jurisdiction 
exists, assuming that resources are available to pursue off-reservation 
lands and consistent with Program priorities. In order to determine 
whether there is tribal jurisdiction, the Program proposes to consider 
various factors relative to the off-reservation tract(s) at issue, such 
as:
    a. Treaties, statutes, executive orders, patents, or other legal 
instruments or laws applicable to the tract;
    b. Whether the tract is held in trust or restricted status;
    c. Whether the tribe seeking to participate in the Program has an 
ownership interest in the tract and how the interest was acquired;
    d. Whether another tribe or tribes own an interest in the tract and 
how the interest was acquired;
    e. Tribal membership of the individuals who own fractional 
interests in the tract;
    f. Types of governmental services provided to the tract and by whom 
(tribe, federal, state, county, or other government);

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    g. Whether a local BIA office serves or performs activities 
relative to the tract;
    h. Whether the tract is located within an original or other 
reservation boundary;
    i. Whether the tract is adjacent to a reservation boundary;
    j. The distance of the tract from a reservation boundary if not 
within or adjacent to a reservation boundary;
    k. Whether tribal jurisdiction is recognized by other tribes, 
counties, and/or states; and;
    l. Whether there are competing claims of jurisdiction over the 
tract involving other tribes, including past or current litigation.
    The above factors are intended to be applied on a case-by-case 
basis in an uncomplicated fashion, recognizing the unique goals and 
parameters of the Cobell Settlement Agreement and the Claims Resolution 
Act of 2010.
    3. Looking Beyond 2022. The Program anticipates that more than 4 
million equivalent purchasable fractionated acres may still exist after 
it fully expends the Consolidation Fund, which is expected to occur by 
November 24, 2022 (the date by which the Settlement dictates that any 
remaining funds be returned to the U.S. Department of the Treasury). 
Even with the Program's significant progress to date--and the results 
expected through 2022--fractionation will continue to be an extremely 
complicated, ongoing problem in the long term. The Department will 
continue to work with Indian Country to explore options for land 
consolidation and requests tribal input and ideas on potential 
solutions and options for addressing long-term fractionation.

IV. Additional Resources

    The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations' 2016 Status Report 
and additional information about the Buy-Back Program is available at: 
http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram. In addition, landowners can contact 
the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 or visit their local 
Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) to ask 
questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about 
financial planning resources. More information and detailed frequently 
asked questions are available at https://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/FAQ 
to help individuals make informed decisions about their land.

Authority

    This notice is published pursuant to the Claims Resolution Act of 
2010, Public Law 111-291, 124 Stat. 3064 (2010) and the Cobell 
Settlement Agreement, Cobell v. Salazar, No. 1:96CV01285-JR (D. DC Dec. 
7, 2009).

John H. McClanahan,
Director, Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.
[FR Doc. 2017-07417 Filed 4-11-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 4334-63-P