Courtesy Cocopah Tribe
Ongoing Colorado River habitat restoration efforts by the Cocopah Tribe have brought back all manner of species.

7 Tribal Programs That Protect Our Winged and Four-Legged Brothers

Terri Hansen

The news is full of sad stories about dying animals, species of all kinds being wiped out, and the random shooting of animals, among other depressing events. Amid all that it’s easy to forget that efforts aplenty are afoot to reverse the declines, save species, restore habitat and pull endangered animals back from the edge of extinction. The animals and birds are our brothers and sisters, after all.  

Here are seven examples of tribal initiatives that are taking back the spirit of environmental stewardship—be they restoring the land, reintroducing species or creating safe conditions for their intersection with modern human life.

RELATED: Tribes Pull Black-Footed Ferrets Back From the Brink

The Animals' Bridge

Wildlife navigating our busy highways must participate in a deadly game to make it to the other side. Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks department reports that wildlife trying to cross busy U.S. Highway 93 in western Montana often resulted in injured and dead deer, bears, bobcats and other creatures. But that was before wildlife passageways through the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana became part of the reconstructed 56-mile stretch.

RELATED: Wildlife Structures on Flathead Reservation

Antelope Learn to Look Both Ways Before Crossing Street

The Flathead’s Animals Bridge offers wildlife a safe way to make the perilous crossing. The project has set a new standard for maintenance of movement migration opportunities for wildlife near highways. It’s a cooperative effort by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), and state and federal highway agencies. CSKT monitors the wildlife crossing structures to ensure their measures are working.

“The reservation has an incredible mix of wildlife species, and that creates an incredible mix of wildlife and habitat issues,” Dale Becker, manager of CSKT’s Tribal Wildlife Management Program, told Montana Outdoors.

Cocopah Indians Restore Wildlife Habitat

The Cocopah Indians in southwestern Arizona partnered with the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Partnerships Program (NWF) in 2006 to restore shoreline habitat along several miles of the Colorado River, where it flows through the tribe’s reservation near the Mexican border. The NWF program hired workers to tear out stands of salt cedar, an invasive plant that grows in dense thickets and overwhelms native trees and shrubs. In its place, the workers planted mesquite and other native species that provide feeding and resting habitat for migrating birds. The tribe’s habitat now draws wildlife that include threatened and endangered bird species.

RELATED: Saving America's Nile: How the Quechan Are Rehabbing the Colorado River

Bringing the Buffalo Home

The NWF in partnership with the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap tribes was successful in convincing the state of Montana to transfer more than 60 bison back to tribal lands in March of 2012. After more than a century away, wild bison were returned to roam the Great Plains in Montana. The bison have restored balance to the land with native wildlife and plants like native grasses and wildflowers that rely on the bison thriving, the NWF says.

RELATED: Pure Strain Bison Returning to Fort Peck

Genetically Pure Bison Returned to Fort Belknap After a Century Away

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of the Interior reaffirmed its commitment to restoring bison to “appropriate and well-managed levels on public and tribal lands” by working with states, tribes and other partners. A DOI statement said the agency was unwaveringly committed to working with tribes to restore bison on public and tribal lands owing to its “cultural, religious, nutritional, and economic importance to many tribes.” Their Bison Report released on June 30 outlines the agency’s plans to work with tribes, states, landowners, conservation groups, commercial bison producers and agricultural interests to restore the bison population to a “proper ecological and cultural role on appropriate landscapes within its historical range.”

Related: Buffalo Comeback: Tribes and Interior Dept. Committed to Making it Happen


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