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In recent years the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, which has since renamed itself the Modoc Nation, has become involved in Klamath Basin issues.

In 2018, Blake Follis, the Tribe’s former attorney general and then its main spokesperson, led efforts to oppose the proposed re-designation of Lava Beds National Monument as a national park. He later guided the Tribe’s successful efforts to purchase the Tulelake Airport.

The re-designation of Lava Beds, which has since gone into hiatus, was supported by a wide range of businesses, tourism organizations and other groups throughout Southern Oregon and far Northern California because of expectations it would benefit regional economies in the Tulelake and Klamath basins.

Jim Chadderdon, Discover Klamath’s executive director, previously said increased visitation from re-designation would be significant. According to Chadderdon’s predictions, a 10 percent increase in visitation would increase park revenues by nearly $590,000, increase direct consumer spending by $23.5 million, and result in an annual total of indirect and induced spending of nearly $112 million, with much of that benefiting the Tulelake and the Klamath Basin.

In opposing re-designation, Follis said he doubted visitation would increase, but said he opposed the status change because an increase in visitors might impact “sacred sites” at the park.

Because of the Tribe’s opposition, and despite possible economic benefits to an area he represents, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Chico, consistently refused to support national park status. LaMalfa represents the far northern California Congressional district that includes Modoc and Siskiyou counties, including Lava Beds. Without support from a congressman who represents the district where changes are being considered, legislation typically never rallies Congressional support.

The Modoc Tribe also purchased the former Fleener Ranch near the Lava Beds. No development plans for the remotely located property have been disclosed. Troy LittleAxe Jr., the Modoc’s assistant tribal administrator and tribal attorney, declined comment on plans.

In another controversy involving the Tribe, the Tulelake city council in 2019 unanimously and without discussion approved selling the airport to the Modoc Nation for $17,500, a cost that only covered the city’s attorney fees. The price was matched by Modoc County, which is involved in the airport’s ongoing operations but that offer was rejected without discussion. An offer for $40,000 made by the Tule Lake Committee, which consists of people who were incarcerated at the Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center, and their relatives, was also rejected. The airport property includes a large section of the former segregation center, where more than 15,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Barbara Takei, a Tule Lake Committee officer, said the group has an appeal pending in the Ninth Circuit challenging “irregularities in the airfield giveaway to the Oklahoma Modoc for $17,500, and a parallel lawsuit in Modoc County over the transaction between the Tribe and the city of Tulelake.” She noted the Tribe’s lawyers are representing both the Oklahoma Modoc Nation and the city of Tulelake, and said the law firm, Peebles and Kidder, hired Blake Follis as an associate attorney.

“It’s all very strange,” she said.

LittleAxe Jr. declined to comment on the status of the airport dispute.