The Native American Rangelands Training Initiative

Background

Input received from Tribal members of the Society for Range Management’s Native American Rangeland Advisory Committee (NARAC), along with numerous Tribal representatives who participated in focus groups, indicated that culturally relevant training and capacity building should be a priority for any comprehensive rangeland conservation strategy. As tribal governments exercise their sovereignty in the management of their own natural resources, meeting the capacity building needs for their workforce will be essential. In addition, tribal range managers are often in need of educational tools for their communities and tribal council members. At the tribal college level, many colleges are limited in faculty numbers and curriculum, and tribal students may not have access to courses that are required for federal, state, or tribal employment. Management of the tribe’s own natural resources is becoming more relevant; if the cultural and traditional ties can be strengthened in the community, it can provide a sense of purpose, empowerment and stewardship for the youth. It is important for partnering organizations to assist with education programs that tie in to employment opportunities in natural resources, equip managers for community outreach with producers and the community, incorporate tribal cultural and traditional teachings, and help prepare their youth for the task ahead.

As a result of this need, funding was acquired from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the US Forest Service to conduct a 4-year pilot project that would jump-start the Native American Rangelands Partnership through the following activities:

  • Rangeland training courses and field workshops tailored for tribal/regional needs;
  • Rangeland management tool-kits for outreach in both Native American and Hispano land-based communities;
  • Inter-tribal informational website on rangeland management; and
  • Evaluation for an accredited online soil and rangeland ecology course for tribal students.

In 2016 and 2017, we conducted two preliminary brainstorming sessions in Montana and New Mexico, respectively, with tribal and federal agency staff, tribal college personnel, students, and extension range managers that work on tribal lands. We used a process to identify ecological, financial, logistical, and educational disconnects and challenges associated with tribal rangelands. This helped us to modify our strategic approach for implementing the workshops. We then followed up with an online survey for tribal governments and colleges to further define those training needs and the most suitable management approaches.

Training Program

View the model here.

Based on the input received in our focus sessions, we designed a model that would do the following:

  1. Provide online learning for baseline rangeland and soil ecology concepts and approaches, and that could be implemented during Tribal staff’s busy schedules. This means that students would not have a set class meeting time, but would be able to check in during varying hours of the day. Most courses are designed to require 4-6 hours/week. In addition, our model would also allow for “pauses” in the courses due to field activities, fire seasons, or traditional ceremonial periods. Students are permitted to re-join the course at a later date. Our main concern was that students would be given the opportunity to learn.
  2. Allow flexibility to tailor the course to different Tribal community needs, cultural approaches, tribal administrative goals, and local ecological communities. Different cultural components are introduced to the class, if desired, by individual students or groups of students from the same tribe since they have that expertise. Because most tribes indicated a desire to approach topics from a holistic or systems approach, this is an important goal for the overall program. However, we are also sure to incorporate instruction using methods that are compliant for federal reporting given that many tribes rely on federal contracts to partner on conservation projects, in addition to including materials helpful for conservation or climate planning.
  3. Allow for flexibility for workshop topics, which can range from fundamental to advanced topics. Topics will include (but are not limited to) introductory soil and rangeland ecology, range plant identification & inventory, grazing practices, wildlife & range management, Ecological Site Descriptions, and remote sensing. Special topics can be added at the request of tribes. Workshops will be held locally and/or regionally, depending on whether groups of tribes feel their needs can be addressed in a larger group setting. Instruction will be coordinated through accredited university range management programs, natural resource management agencies, tribal governments and colleges, and non-profit organizations.
  4. Provide on-the-ground advisory groups. At the request of tribal governments, advisory groups can be coordinated among local and regional rangeland and soil experts (agency, university, non-profit), tribal professionals, and already existing natural resource and cultural partners with whom the tribes have been working. Advisory group members are asked to include these activities as part of their own work descriptions (via agency directives or extension responsibilities), or volunteer their time and energy. Advisory members must be motivated to assist tribal staff, be readily available to meet with and conduct site visits, and be able to make time to assist with workshop instruction.
  5. Provide opportunities to participate in range-related conferences, such as the Society for Range Management (national and state chapters) to allow tribal rangeland managers opportunities to network and collaborate with other rangeland managers, thus enhancing partnerships with universities, other agencies, and non-profit organizations. Tribal rangeland managers will be provided with assistance from a regional rangeland advisory groups, if needed, to develop community relevant rangeland studies, and present their findings to their peers.

Outreach Toolkits

Outreach toolkits will be developed and tailored to both Native American and Hispanoagricultural communities. Outreach toolkits will target general community members, producers, tribal councils and local political leadership, and youth, and will be traditionally and culturally relevant for specific regions/tribes. Material will be innovative and creative to increase viewership. Final products about rangeland management will include the following:

  • Downloadable PowerPoint presentations and video clips for tribal councils and political leadership. Foundational material can be used to tailor packages for specific community needs.
  • Culturally relevant video presentations for general tribal members, which can include Native American humor and music to explain how soil is lost through erosion caused by overgrazing, wind, fire, and water runoff, and why rangelands are important to tribal communities. Films can be posted on YouTube or distributed by tribal staff.
  • Downloadable baseline educational resource packets, including PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and recommended field activities for producer workshops.
  • Downloadable resources for teachers (K-12) and Boys and Girls Clubs, including activity plans, handouts, field activities, video clips, and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Downloadable resources for Tribal College and Hispanic Serving Institution range clubs, including links to the Society for Range Management, club start-up guidelines, recommended activities, handouts, video clips, and PowerPoint presentations.

Native American Rangelands Partnership Website

This website is designed to host educational and training material for tribal rangeland management, and provide online support. Range manager resources will include downloadable presentations, documents, data sheet templates, video clips, funding sources and opportunities, announcements, and tribal success stories. Public and educator resources would be open-access from the front-end of the website. Links will highlight professional organizations, tribal websites, and other relevant online sources. This website will be managed through a partnership effort with important links to partner websites. The site can be expanded to include all natural resource related components later, if partners desire.

Accredited Online Soil and Rangeland Ecology Course for Tribal Colleges

The Native American Rangeland Training Initiative provides funding for an assessment of an online accredited soil and rangeland ecology course that would help tribal students become more marketable for natural resource related employment opportunities. Soil ecology is one of the course requirements for many federal natural resource positions. While there are several models that could be adapted, this assessment will need to take place through the input of key Tribal College organizations and leaders who can best decide upon the best approach. Currently, we are developing a working group to implement this objective. Once this assessment has been completed, and if it is something desired by Tribal Colleges, then we will proceed to develop a strategy to implement the courses. For questions or input, please contact Diana Doan-Crider.