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California tribes get $1.5 million from feds for conservation

Seven California tribes have been awarded over $1.5 million in federal funds for habitat conservation. The group includes some casino-gaming tribes with at least one matching the federal money with their own funds.

The money from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is part of $7 million in awards the agency is distributing nationally as part of an 8-year-old program that pays tribes for removing invasive species, environmental restoration and other projects. FWS does not take the financial resources of a tribe when awarding the grants, but officials with the agency’s Pacific Regional Office say they have been holding workshops to help tribes with fewer resources get access to that money.

“The ranking criteria pretty much looking at the resource benefit,” said David Wooten, a tribal partnerships specialist with FWS’s Habitat Restoration Division. “A lot of tribes, even though they have casino, may not have an environmental program or a program to restore wetlands. It’s way for all tribes to build capacity.”

Three of the seven California tribes that received the grants this year have casinos: The Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Susanville Indian Rancheria, and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, formerly known as the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which runs the popular Cache Creek Casino near Sacramento. All three received the maximum $200,000 amount.

Two other tribes who received grants—the Habematolel Band of Pomo Indians and the Pinoleville Pomo Nation—have signed compacts and are trying to build casinos. Last year, three other casino tribes were among those winning some of the $1.3 million given to California tribes: Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the Pit River Tribe, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

Jim Etters, the director of land management for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, said that the tribe’s casino profits have allowed them partner with a local environment group, the Cache Creek Conservancy, to do significant environmental work. The tribe just finished a five year, $250,000 FWS grant. With both that grant and the current three year, $200,000 grant, the tribe will be matching every federal dollar on a one-to-one basis.

“It’s through the tribal council, but the money comes from a casino,” Etters said. He added, “The tribe is very is very excited about the conservation work we’ve started.”

That work consists mainly of removing invasive species from Cache Creek, a popular waterway that runs through the tribal territory. Using outside contract laborers and volunteers from the Cache Creek Conservancy, they’re torn out several acres worth of tamarisk, a Eurasian species also known as salt cedar the uses a lot of water and deposits salt into the soil, as well as other invasive plants. The money is also being used to buy native plants to restore these areas.

Lynnel Pollock, executive director of the Cache Creek Conservancy, said the tribe’s participation has allowed them to do work that might have been impossible otherwise.

“It’s benefitted the watershed to a large extent,” Pollack said. “We can do so much more work when the federal funds are level against the contributions from the tribe.”  

FWS Wooten noted that for the last two years, the agency’s Pacific office, with represents California and Nevada, has held a trio of workshops—in Redding, Riverside and Reno—to help tribes apply. They’ll be holding a these three-day grant-writing workshop again from March 16 to 18.

They’ve also created a review team to help tribes with their proposals, especially poorer tribes that haven’t been able to access federal grants in the past—an effort he characterized as “leveling the playing field.”

“The past two years we’ve done really well, particularly with the California tribes,” Wooten said.


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