November is Manatee Awareness Month; but no matter what time of year it is, manatees deserve to be celebrated. These amazing creatures fulfill a unique niche by serving as indicator species for ecosystems across the United States. Because of their reliance on the health of their habitat, manatees often act as a signal of their environment’s well-being. NOAA photo by Michael Buchanan.
Spring is coming early in 3/4 of national parks, according to a new study. Awesome? Not so much. As flowers bloom earlier every year, it’s disrupting the link between the wildflowers and the arrival of birds, bees, and butterflies that feed on and pollinate the flowers. In Shenandoah, an earlier spring is giving invasive plants a head start, and they’re displacing native wildflowers, leading to costly management issues.
Before the 1960s almost everything about living openly as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person was illegal. New York City laws against homosexual activities were particularly harsh. The Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969 is a milestone in the quest for LGBT civil rights and provided momentum for a movement.
Vine Creek Ranch at Death Valley National Park. Steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.
The Indian trust consists of 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface minerals estates held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. Over 11 million acres belong to individual Indians and nearly 44 million acres are held in trust for Indian tribes. On these lands, the Department manages more than 122,817 leases. It also manages approximately $4.9 billion in trust funds.
For Fiscal Year 2016, OST achieved multiple milestones in delivering trust management services to tribal and Individual Indian Monies (IIM) account holders:
$1.2 billion was received into and disbursed from tribal and individual Indian beneficiaries’ accounts (81% of these funds were disbursed electronically).
878,000 periodic performance statements (showing sources of funds, encumbrance information, and listings of trust property owned) were provided to beneficiaries.
Approximately $5 billion of trust fund assets were invested to help meet the needs and objectives of tribal and individual Indian beneficiaries.
Approximately 10.3 million financial transactions were processed with 99.99% accuracy.
OST also had the following major accomplishments during Fiscal Year 2016 related to financial processing and beneficiary services:
Participated with Indian Affairs in 10 consultation sessions (including one telephonic conference session) and one listening session throughout key locations in Indian Country to secure input on the implementation of Title III of ITARA. OST prepared extensive briefing materials and delivered detailed presentations at each session.
Received positive feedback during and following each consultation session from both tribes and government participants on the critical work OST performs in delivering services to Indian beneficiaries and tribes. OST plans to provide a draft report to the Department in November 2016.
Completed the final transfer of all bulk printing to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This final transition piece included all tax related forms in addition to the existing printing of all Statements of Account, Oil and Gas Explanations of Payment, checks, and invoices. This effort has reduced costs to the federal government and increased reliability to the beneficiary while at the same time providing for effective continuity of operations to ensure no disruption in service.
In FY 2016, reduced the region-wide appraisal backlog from 566 to 6 while maintaining a normal annual appraisal workload. Nine of the twelve Office of Appraisal Services (OAS) regions ended the fiscal year with a zero appraisal backlog; for two of the regions, Alaska and Great Plains, this was a first time occurrence. OAS regions completed 4,133 appraisal requests, involving 4,072 tracts containing 767,692 acres having a composite value of $312,382,950.
Completed 974 site specific appraisals and 10 mass appraisal models to support the acquisitions of the Department’s Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations. These appraisals, valued at approximately $1.5 billion, encompassed 11,487 land tracts, totaling 1,345,654 acres.
Conducted two National Records Management Training Conferences throughout Indian Country. Each training conference was three days. Total attendance was 283.
Completed 34 trust evaluations at various Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and tribal locations to evaluate compliance with trust standards in the management of Indian trust operations.
Completed 53 records assessments at various BIA and OST locations to assess compliance with the Indian Affairs Records Management Manual.
Presented 233 financial empowerment courses that helped beneficiaries achieve a level of understanding of financial management that supports and promotes financial self-sufficiency.
Verified and updated the mailing addresses for 10,888 Whereabouts Unknown IIM accountholders with balances totaling $17.6 million.
Responded to 195,558 beneficiary contacts at the Trust Beneficiary Call Center and achieved an overall first-line resolution rate of 98.5%, outperforming the industry average of 49%.
There are a number of additional factors that make the Indian trust a unique management challenge:
Unlike most commercial trusts, there was no trust document that created the Indian trust and articulated the fiduciary duties incumbent on the federal government in managing that trust. Instead the Indian trust gradually evolved from a series of Congressional actions—beginning with the General Allotment Act of 1887 (“Dawes Act”)—and subsequent policy changes. This unusual history created uncertainties about how the trust was to be managed, and about the very nature of the Indian trust: was it more like a common law trust or more like a government program? These ambiguities were gradually, if incompletely, resolved by case law, then finally by enactment of the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994. Even now, and despite legislative clarifications, the courts still wrestle with the issue of whether the Indian trust is governed by the Administrative Procedures Act (like other federal government programs) or by the common law of trusts.
Trust agreements or trust documents do not exist for each tribal account or each IIM account, which in a commercial trust would provide specific guidance in management of the trust assets.
The Indian trust operates under unique probate and title change requirements, and the sovereignty of the beneficiary community frequently influences management decisions.
Unlike the commercial trust environment, where accounts and underlying trust assets must remain economically viable and productive or face liquidation under the common law of trusts, a large number of small accounts exist within the Indian trust. As of the end of fiscal year 2015, there were 78,545 IIM accounts with balances of less than $15 and with no activity for 18 months. In fact, most Indian trust accounts would fall below the minimal threshold for commercial trust accounts. Of approximately 400,000 open IIM accounts in the system, 40,030 receive less than $10 per year. In many cases the value of an Indian trust account is less than the cost of its administration, and the cultural heritage associated with the land held in trust is sometimes more important to the beneficiary than its monetary worth.
The Indian fiduciary trust does not charge for services to manage the natural resources of the trust or investment of trust funds. Virtually 100 percent of the income is returned to tribes and individuals.
By law, the Indian trust is limited to investments in government or government-backed securities, which decreases risk but also limits the potential for growth.