The Southwest Biological Science Center (SBSC) conducts and provides scientific information as part of our mission and Federal Trust Responsibility to strengthen relationships and build partnerships with sovereign tribal nations. Here, we highlight a few examples of projects with tribal partners.
SBSC TRIBAL PARTNERSHIPS
Knowledge sharing to address climate change & protect resources
Understanding how dam operations impact river sediments and river access
Partners-in-Science: Training the next generation
Monitoring and researching cultural sites in Grand Canyon, AZ
UTE MOUNTAIN UTE, NAVAJO NATION & SALT RIVER PIMA-MARICOPA INDIAN COMMUNITY
Working with the local community to develop research
Informing land-use planning by understanding dust risk
Support for Restoration and Seed Sovereignty on the Navajo Nation
Climate change on the Navajo Nation is bringing ongoing drought and warming, resulting in loss of vegetation cover and soil erosion. This threatens the land, Diné culture and traditions, grazing operations, wildlife habitat, human health, and the water supply. The project addresses cross-cutting barriers to revegetation and climate-informed land management, specifically, an increase in the amount of locally-grown, locally-adapted genotypes of native plants available for revegetation projects. We are educating tribal staff and community members on the benefits of restoration with native plant materials and offer new, culturally grounded restoration resources. Finally, the project installed a restoration pilot project on the headwaters of an important drainage that provides hands-on experience and catalyzes future restoration actions. This is part of an ongoing effort between Tolani Lake Enterprises, Navajo Division of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Geological Survey's Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS), who have developed a strategy that weaves Traditional Knowledge, Western Science, and capacity building to combat the effects of climate change. To that end, this project contains the co-benefit of creating an enterprise model for native seed farming that links the ecological health of the land with social well-being and economic sustainability. The outcomes include less bare ground and erosion, more sustainable grazing conditions, improved air quality, increased water quality and quantity, tribal sovereignty, and community empowerment.
USGS Sedimentation Surveys Support Hualapai Tribe Colorado River Rafting Operations
The upstream end of Lake Mead that is within Grand Canyon National Park is the final reach for many Grand Canyon River trips. It is the centerpiece of commercial river running operations by the Hualapai Tribe, making it one of the busiest sections of the river, in terms of boat traffic, in the National Park. The Tribe has been operating this recreational enterprise for more than 40 years, and it is a vital part of the Tribe’s economy. In recent years, bed sedimentation in the western Grand Canyon has become a greater problem, often resulting in boat beaching, difficulty accessing the Pearce Ferry boat ramp, and issues with maintaining boat docks. At the request of the Tribe, USGS’ Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center scientists have recently initiated a project to better understand how Glen Canyon Dam operations upstream affect sediment movement and river channel dynamics in this complicated reach. As part of this study, scientists have made repeat surveys of the riverbed to measure channel response to a test flow released from Glen Canyon Dam in March 2021. The repeat surveys will allow quantification of the magnitude and spatial distribution of erosion and deposition associated with the flow pulse and normal dam operations. The field data will also be used to develop a streamflow and sediment transport model that will allow evaluating bed response in a predictive framework to determine whether there are systematic changes in bed elevation caused by dam operations. The project results will be shared with tribal resource managers to contribute to their understanding of how dam operations affect the riverbed in this dynamic segment of the Colorado River. Because similar issues exist upstream along the deltas of the Colorado and San Juan arms of Lake Powell, this research project also could provide guidance for management of other large reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin.
Partners-in-Science Colorado River Trips with Tribal Youth
To improve opportunities for tribal members and diverse audiences to participate in Colorado River resource monitoring, the Southwest Biological Science Center has partnered with Grand Canyon Youth to launch Partners-in-Science river trips for more than 20 years. In 2021, three Partners trips were launched to collect valuable monitoring data on water quality, algae, invertebrates, and fish in Grand Canyon. Each of these Partners-in-Science trips engage approximately 30 high school age students, and in 2021 one of these trips was comprised entirely of tribal youth participants. These river trips are a powerful tool for training the next generation of scientists in the scientific process and educating participants about the role of USGS Ecosystems Mission Area's science in the management of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. In 2022, we are exploring how to collaborate with tribes in all Partners-in-Science trips to facilitate monitoring of tribal resources on these trips, and to describe the role that Traditional Ecological Knowledge and tribal values play in management of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon.
Cultural Site Monitoring Along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon
For more than a decade, USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center scientists have been studying and monitoring the effects of Glen Canyon Dam operations on Native American archaeological sites and the broader terrestrial landscape along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. The monitoring approach we are using today was originally designed to be responsive to questions and concerns raised by tribal stakeholders who actively participate in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP), specifically the Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Kaibab Southern Paiute, and Zuni. For example, the Hopi Tribe wanted to understand how dam operations — as distinct from natural processes such as local weather and regional climate — affected the types and rates of erosion at archaeological sites in the river corridor, while the Navajo Nation was particularly concerned with minimizing human disturbance from scientific monitoring at cultural sites. All the Tribes expressed interest in improving understanding of the larger ecosystem context impacted by dam operations. Taking these tribal perspectives into consideration, we designed a monitoring program for cultural sites that relies primarily on remote sensing methods (terrestrial lidar surveys, photogrammetry, automated weather stations) to document physical changes at both site-specific and landscape scales, and we interpret these changes in relation to both ongoing natural processes as well dam-specific effects. As part of the continuing effort to understand the role of dam operations in affecting the physical condition of archaeological sites, we are currently partnering with the National Park Service and tribal members of the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps to experimentally remove riparian vegetation from selected areas, and monitor changes downwind of these areas for the purpose of evaluating how expansion of riparian vegetation due to the dam has affected sand movement and re-supply to archeological sites and associated aeolian dunefields along the Colorado River. Results from this experimental study will help to inform future restoration efforts in the river corridor downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. In addition to these ongoing studies, the Southwest Biological Science Center provides logistical support to the five tribes that actively participate in the GCDAMP, so that they can visit and monitor ancestral sites along the Colorado River with tribal youth and elders, and report on their condition from a traditional cultural perspective.
Incorporation of Cultural Knowledge into Environmental and Adaptive Management
The USGS’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, in collaboration with tribal stakeholders in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, USGS Fort Collins Science Center, University of Montana, and Colorado State University have ongoing research investigating how to better incorporate cultural benefits knowledge into environmental and adaptive management. The ongoing research includes tribal member surveys with the Navajo Nation and Hualapai Tribe. The surveys aim to better understand the perspectives of tribal stakeholders concerning resources management downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. This information is critical in informing processes such as monitoring and research in an adaptive management program and is fundamental in the integration of tribal relational values into Federal decisions related to environmental management. USGS continues to provide technical support and engage with tribal stakeholders and other researchers through collaborative activities, including workshops, presentations, and documentation of survey results and ongoing collective research.
Defining Wind Erosion Risk on the Navajo Nation
Newly funded project to help Navajo Nation identify high-risk areas and deliver risk information to land-use planners and the community.
Climate change and land-use intensification place tribal lands on the Colorado Plateau at risk of accelerated rates of wind erosion and degradation. Sediment transport from wind erosion has cascading effects on ecosystems (soil and vegetation productivity, climate) and human health (respiratory illnesses, pathogens), and has intensified in recent years. Natural resource managers with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife's Natural Heritage Program are charged with protecting these at-risk ecosystems and human values, which includes development of maps of sensitive areas that must be considered before new land-use clearance is approved. Tribal resource managers are currently lacking knowledge about which locations are most vulnerable to wind erosion and its associated risks. Maps that accurately depict wind erosion risk do not currently exist for many lands in the western U.S., let alone on tribal lands. This project will employ a foundational network of field measurements, databases, remote sensing imagery, new predictive soil maps, and wind erosion simulations to produce wind erosion vulnerability maps for tribal lands. Through ongoing tribal engagement, the project will deliver much-needed information for land-use planning and community awareness.
Remote Sensing to Support Navajo Nation
Remote sensing of riparian areas and water use along the Little Colorado River supports Navajo Nation water resource decisions and policy.
Riparian areas of the Little Colorado River are of critical importance to the Navajo Nation because water supplies life to these ecosystems and in turn to the community. Better estimates of riparian plant evapotranspiration (ET) and consumptive water use (CU) are valuable to the Navajo Nation in the adjudication of water rights. Accurate measurements in this vast dryland region have been difficult to make due to the lack of long-term weather stations and other sources of ground data, including riparian vegetation maps. SBSC has partnered with Fred Phillips Consulting to provide the Navajo Nation with six years (2015-2020) of accurate estimates of data for a study area that includes the riparian vegetation along the Little Colorado River, tributaries, and streams. This information helped us produce estimates of CU based on riparian area. These data are valuable to Navajo Nation’s natural resource collaborators and policymakers who will utilize this data in the arbitration of water rights, as well as to assist decision-making for managing habitat and water resources along these riparian corridors.
RestoreNet Partners with Tribal Nations
The drylands of the southwestern U.S. are on the climate change frontlines, facing ongoing drought, the spread of invasive species, and devastating fires. In response, managers are conducting land treatments on an unprecedented scale. These treatments are often expensive, and in lands with patchy precipitation and degraded soil, success rates are low. In response, the Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS) is working with diverse stakeholders to co-produce RestoreNet, a network of restoration field trial sites spanning public and private lands in the southwestern U.S. (click on map to see larger view). The project started in 2017 and has undergone its first round of treatments with widespread recognition and engagement. In Fiscal Year 2022, we will start version 2.0 of RestoreNet to address questions co-developed with our stakeholders. The following activities will continue to provide scientific rigor in understanding restoration outcomes and translate them in a way that can be used by our many partners. The project has three sites on tribal land, one on the Ute Mountain reservation managed by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, one at Scottsdale Community College on lands belonging to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and one on the Navajo Nation managed by Tolani Lake Enterprises, a tribal non-profit organization.