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Prairie environment may be changing

MISSION, S.D. -Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation is in the process of investigating potential changes in the Great Plains due to climatic changes.

Supported by a $20,000 grant from NASA, the program will try to determine if changes to vegetation and the prairie ecosystem have taken place or if they are currently taking place.

"We will look at the emerging prairie using our history and cultural knowledge with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology and put this in the form of a video to educate everyone," said James Rattling Leaf, director of the Sinte Gleska science program.

The NASA grant was made possible through the office of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

"I am proud of Sinte Gleska University for securing this grant. The Native American community, with its spiritual traditions and long histories of change, adaptation and survival, is an important audience for this educational endeavor," Sen. Daschle said.

Rattling Leaf said the elders' cultural knowledge would compliment information gained by the latest technology. They hope to determine if prairie environmental changes have caused significant and harmful changes to the environment and to search for possible solutions to any problems.

GIS will be used to layer details on a map that will show any changes that are taking place. Then historical and cultural information will be layered against those technological images to determine if changes have occurred.

Rattling Leaf said the University has been using the GIS technology on a small pilot project by using satellite and ground level imagery.

"We have an interest in the northern plains and by looking at climate changes we can determine soil moisture. By determining the amount of water we will be looking at climate change. We will research other indicator species, such as prairie dogs. With the research we will be mindful of how if fits into our culture and how it fits into the Lakota philosophies," Rattling Leaf said.

The funding from NASA will be leveraged to attract other funding so that salaries and expenses can be met for the one-year project.

Sinte Gleska is a member of and is working with the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium in this project, which provides satellite imagery.

All vegetation, such as forests and prairie grasses, the changes made to the environment by roads and tillage and man-made changes in water flow will all be part of the project assessment.

"Climate change is an issue of serious concern. Education and understanding is the first step toward reducing our negative impact on the environment. The Native American community is sure to bring fresh perspectives to this problem," Daschle said.