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Tribal-Specific Conservation Practices Get USDA Funding in California

For the first time in California the United States Department of Agriculture will provide funds to meet the differing conservation needs of American Indian tribes. The department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) is making $1 million available to tribal farmers and ranchers for tradition-based tribal conservation practices.

“NCRS has a regular environmental quality incentives program to do conservation,” Reina Rogers, the service’s American Indian Liaison for California, said.

“This year what we’re trying to do is set up tribal specifics. We’ve been working with tribes on and off for years and what we’ve found is that a lot of our practices don’t really fit on tribal lands. The conventional agricultural programs for farmers and ranchers just didn’t fit. It was like trying to pound that square peg into the round hole. In talking with tribes that had trouble getting into the program because it just wasn’t fitting well, is how we built this tribal initiative.

“The priorities are now a lot more similar with the traditional practices that the tribes want to do,” Rogers added.

Asked for a specific example of how the new program might work Rogers cited the Hoopa Tribe in California’s Humboldt County.

“The Hoopa tribe’s agriculture is on a smaller scale, more sustainable than the conventional agriculture going on in Humboldt County. Under the conventional environmental quality incentives programs their practices would be similar to other farmers. But what they’re interested in is smaller, more sustainable farming. Say they want to do more acorn management, for food. Say they have native plants they want to rehabilitate for basketry fiber.”

This new program would address those tribal interests, she added. This is the first time in California that a federal government allocation has been made for tribal-specific conservation practices. “A lot of this will be forestry management practices addressed to eliminating excess fuels and managing the woodlands.”

"Tribes often have different conservation priorities than other state producers and frequently have culturally based priorities, such as the management of Traditional Native American Food Plants that are not priorities for mainstream producers," Juan Armand, President of the Klamath Trinity Resource Conservation District, said in a news release announcing the program. "This targeted funding will provide enhanced opportunities for California Tribes to remain major players in conservation issues in the state, ranging from water usage to fire management."

Applications from tribes wanting to participate in the new program will be accepted through February 3, 2012.