By Janene Scully, Noozhawk North County Editor


The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs leader has withdrawn a decision to take 1,400 acres into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, saying more environmental analysis is needed.

The March 29 reversal by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney claimed a regional director determined that additional endangered or threatened species exist on the land.

Once Sweeney made her decision in February to take the land into trust, the BIA’s Pacific Regional director took steps toward implementing the switch that would make the property part of the tribe’s reservation.

“In doing so, the regional director determined that additional endangered or threatened species had been determined to exist within the geographic region of the subject property since 2014. As a result, the BIA must determine whether the species may be affected by the agency’s decision,” Sweeney’s March 29 order said.

The order also blamed a federal court’s lack of a response to efforts to stay a federal lawsuit filed by a Santa Ynez Valley property owner to buy time for BIA to determine what additional steps were needed.

“This limited timeframe does not afford the BIA the time needed to properly investigate these matters,” Sweeney said.

She added that “the most prudent course of action” led to withdrawing the Feb. 25 decision and vacating a colleague’s 2014 Notice of Decision to take the land into trust. The additional time will allow BIA to complete its new environmental review.

The tribe purchased the 1,400 acres known as Camp 4 in 2010, and said it plans to build 143 housing units and a tribal administrative building while protecting the vast majority of the property as agricultural land or environmental open space.

“Our tribe is committed to ensuring that all environmental impacts, including consideration of the two new species added to the endangered species list after the 2014 Notice of Decision, are fully surveyed according to the BIA’s policies,” Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn said. “As the original stewards of this land, protecting the environment is a way of life for our tribe.

“We will continue to do so as we fight to protect and restore our historic Chumash homeland. Our pursuit for tribal housing on Camp 4 is vital to preserving the tribe’s customs and traditions,” he added.

This week’s action was the latest in a series of approvals and rejections regarding Camp 4 — for Chumash supporters and opponents in the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.

“This is a stunning reversal by the federal government,” said SYV Coalition Chairman Bill Krauch. “Agreeing to even this limited review makes it clear that the Interior Department recognizes the inadequacies of its environmental assessment conducted years ago on the Camp 4 fee-to-trust action.”

“However, we strongly believe that the updated environmental analysis should not be limited,” Krauch added.  

He called for the completion of a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and environmental impact statement 

“We hope that the BIA and the Chumash are not gaming the federal courts by seeking to dismiss the citizen lawsuits, and requiring that these complicated and legal challenges start from scratch,” Krauch said. 

Battles over Camp 4 continue to be waged at the administrative, legislative and legal levels.

Sweeney’s February ruling came days after a federal judge vacated another official’s 2017 decision to take the land into trust and remanded the matter back to BIA.

The judge’s ruling involved a summary judgment for the lawsuit filed by Santa Ynez Valley property owner Anne (Nancy) Crawford Hall, who is represented by Santa Barbara attorneys Barry Cappello and Wendy Welkom.

The U.S. government recently filed a motion asking a federal judge to toss out Crawford-Hall’s lawsuit, citing the fact the BIA leader had reversed its decision and arguing the federal court lacked jurisdiction.

“The assistant secretary’s withdrawal of the 2019 decision and vacatur of the 2014 NOD (Notice of Decision) means there is no final agency action pending before this court, and there is no agency decision the court can review,” the U.S. government said in its motion to dismiss Crawford-Hall’s lawsuit.

Judge Stephen V. Wilson is scheduled to hear the motion April 29 in federal court.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at