Historically cheated, tribes would get conservation aid under bipartisan bill
WASHINGTON – The Walker River Paiute tribe, located in Schurz, Nevada, is not bear country. But because of the forest fires ravaging California, these animals are escaping to new, safer habitats, some of which are in Indian territory.
Historically, the federal government has provided relatively little funding for tribal land conservation, so suddenly having to deal with an influx of animals like bears means that indigenous peoples have to make do with little to no resources.
“Fish and wildlife, they know no bounds,” Elveda Martinez, president of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society and member of the Walker River Paiute tribe, told Capital News Service. âThis bear that’s here in our community, he didn’t stop at the edge of the reserve and said, ‘Oh, I can’t go on like this. I can’t go to this reserve because they don’t have any funding to take care of me. They have no funding to follow me. They have no way of saving me.
It can change.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, introduced in April by Representatives Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, includes the help Indigenous people have sought for decades.
The bill redirects $ 1.3 billion of existing revenue toward state-led wildlife conservation efforts, as well as $ 97.5 million toward tribal-led efforts.
Tribal lands provide habitat for more than 525 threatened and endangered federally listed species on nearly 140 million acres of land, many of which are of great cultural significance to Indian tribes.
Martinez’s Bear Problem is just one glimpse of a wide range of conservation issues his tribe must tackle with minimal resources.
Under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which dates from 1937, states and territories receive funding for restoration and conservation efforts each year. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service paid nearly $ 19 billion to states and territories between 1939 and 2019. Other than a small number of grants, no other conservation funding has been given to the land. tribal.
âRight now there is really no funding for tribal fish and wildlife,â Martinez said. âThere is no funding for the tribes to build their capacity for these different issues. Right now, the tribes, we are all fighting for over $ 4-6 million for tribal wildlife grants that go through the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Like the 50 states, the 574 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States are unique. Some, like the Navajo Nation, own millions of acres of land, while others have no land.
âThe needs are just as diverse as the tribes themselves,â said Julie Thorstenson, executive director of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. âSometimes I see them using (funds) to continue the work they are already doing, maybe to expand research or build capacity. And other tribes, that could mean just starting to develop their fishing and wildlife programs.
Federal government grants to tribes have served primarily to meet immediate needs, but lack substance to leave a lasting impact, according to tribal leaders.
âThere just isn’t enough money,â Martinez said. âAnd again, if you get a grant, you might be able to do a small project. But once that grant is over, it’s like, ‘Okay, now what do I do now?’ “
The Dingell-Fortenberry legislation has gained momentum since its introduction, enjoying support on both sides of the aisle and the support of many nonprofits.
“RAWA is the most exciting conservation public policy development in decades,” Representative Fortenberry said in a press release. âIt protects ecosystems, improves community, supports recreation. That is why we have a diverse group of people, from all political walks of life – sportsmen, hunters, anglers, bird watchers – are lining up so beautifully around this bill.
âThere has been a real sort of evolution or revitalization over the last five or six years,â said Garrit Voggesser, director of tribal partnership for the National Wildlife Federation. âThe tribes have really made their voices heard on their rights …
Efforts to provide conservation assistance to tribes come as these tribes also struggle, like the rest of the planet, with climate change.
âOur people are called the trout eaters, we are the Agai-Dicutta,â Martinez said. âBut we are losing our culture because there are no trout in our lakeâ¦ It is because of climate change.
Funding to address climate issues on the Martinez reservation, as well as others in the United States, is included in a broad program of democratic reconciliation.
Of the $ 25.6 billion for climate finance, $ 6.3 billion is earmarked for tribal lands. For the moment, the prospects for the reconciliation measure are unclear.
Native Americans are keeping a close watch on Congress to see what happens to the Wildlife Conservation and Aid Bill.
âIf he doesn’t (pass) I think the tribes will muster the force and we’ll figure out how to take another chance,â Voggesser said. âThe majority of the tribes will continue to move forward. But in the face of what is happening to wildlife and habitat, mainly due to climate, but also to human development, it will become more difficult if there are no additional resources to ensure the protection of wildlife and habitat.
This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org Thursday, September 23, 2021.