Sally Bell's name became a rallying cry in the 1980s, when the Georgia-Pacific lumber company sought to topple some of the last surviving old redwoods in a 90-acre grove that now memorializes her. Environmentalists chained themselves to trees, the cutting stopped, and then something like change came to the Lost Coast. In 1985 a court ruling put an end to clear-cutting on 7,100 acres of timberland, about half of which was added to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. Native people, loggers, and environmentalists sat down to help thrash out a plan for the other half. The original agreement set aside some areas as reserves, with the remainder to be harvested after a few decades of rest. But the tribes held out for a different plan.
Priscilla Hunter, one of the founders of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, put her foot down and insisted that the land simply not be exploited again—a stance that almost destroyed the agreement and led to ill feeling. After years of meetings and with a heavy dose of obstinacy, the council became the leading force in the efforts of various state parks and nonprofits to retire patches of woodland so that the historic forests could return.
In 1997, after more than a century of dispossession, the council acquired the 3,900 acres of Sinkyone land and turned it into the country's first intertribal wilderness area. "It was time for our people to get land back so that we could protect it," Hunter says. "The coastline and the redwood forests are sacred to the tribes. That's where our people gather food and medicines, and the mountains are a place of ceremony where we can go and feel the power of our Mother Earth. The elder redwood trees are very powerful to us in a spiritual way."
In cooperation with California State Parks, the council is restoring a stream known as Wolf Creek, which runs through nearby Wheeler, an abandoned logging town, in hopes of beckoning back a salmon run. Old logging roads have been removed by the council and the state parks, and the land is beginning to heal. Upon a low ridge, redwoods twist and writhe, their limbs shaped by winds off the sea, almost a chorus of wood singing songs that modern humans are only slowly learning to hear.
Across the continent in southern Florida, another tribe once pegged for extermination is trying something similar. During the 20th century about half of the Big Cypress Swamp and the neighboring Everglades was destroyed for cities and farms. Invasive trees such as the melaleuca and the Brazilian pepper threaten what remains. A federal and state plan signed into law in 2000 promised a massive effort to revive the wetlands by restoring more natural water patterns, but until recently the plan remained stalled for lack of funding. So the Seminole Indians developed their own Everglades initiative, electing to take 2,100 acres of Big Cypress Reservation land, systematically remove the invaders, flood it to approximate what were once normal flows, and bring back some of the wild ground.