WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced awards totaling nearly $5 million to Native American and Alaskan tribes for wildlife conservation projects. The grants are for 29 conservation and restoration projects in 16 states, and are to benefit golden eagles, condors, salmon, wolves, sage grouse and other imperiled species, and to address conservation challenges such as wild pig control, invasive aquatic species containment and post-dam removal ecosystem restoration.
"Tribal lands protect some of North America's most important remaining blocks of wildlife habitat, encompassing more than 100 million acres of land home to hundreds of native species," USFWS Director Dan Ashe said. "The Tribal Wildlife Grants Program helps us work in partnership with federally-recognized tribes, state wildlife agencies and other federal government agencies to restore and sustain important habitat to benefit all Americans for generations to come."
Since the program began in 2003, the competitive grant program has supported over 420 conservation projects totaling more than $72 million. The awards help tribes develop management capacity, strengthen conservation partnerships, help train upcoming generations of tribal conservationists and enlist the help of tribes on behalf of endangered species, both those that are of traditional importance for tribal members such as eagles for their religiously important feathers, and those species on tribal lands that are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Because tribal lands are not considered part of the federal land base due to treaties, judicial decisions and other agreements, there is a long-standing legal disagreement regarding treaty rights and the application of the ESA on tribal lands. While tribal land is considered to be part of the "Indian land base," the federal government holds the lands in trust for the tribes, and therefore has a responsibility to protect those lands and resources.
In 1997, a Secretarial Order, issued by the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, which oversee the implementation of the ESA through the USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service, was issued after extensive consultation with tribal representatives. "Both the federal team and the tribal acknowledged that species conservation could be best achieved through government-to-government collaboration and communication rather than through litigation," the USFWS said.
By focusing on mutual goals rather than differences, both the order and its subsequent agency policies, and the tribal wildlife grant awards program seek to forge conservation partnerships to benefit endangered species and protect treaty rights, the agency said.
"Just as the Dreamcatcher catches the good dreams and allows the bad dreams to pass through the net, the Native American Policy of the Fish and Wildlife Service is intended to capture only good government-to government relationships. As our relationship with the Native American people continues to evolve, we will continue to capture the good visions and add them to this Policy," the agency said.
Part of this partnership collaboration acknowledges "Traditional Ecological Knowledge," or TEK, "as a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (human and non-human) with one another and with their environment," the agency said.
Past successes of the grant program include the reintroduction of "culturally important" lake sturgeon in Red Lake, Minn., a culvert project that opened stream habitat for salmon in the Alaskan village of Tyonek, and the construction of several eagle rehabilitation and release programs as well as aviaries for non-releasable eagles in the southwest. "The aviaries allow the Tribes to care for eagles and rehabilitate those that can be released into the wild, while collecting naturally molted feathers for religious and cultural use," the agency said.