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Tribal conservation projects on the Wind River Reservation get a big boost with federal grant funding

Four people with hats and sunglasses stand in front of a teepee, with a big expanse of sagebrush and a plains river basin behind them.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Greater Yellowstone Coalition's Senior Wind River Conservation Associate Wes Martel, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources Graduate Assistant Janna Black, and GYC’s Wind River Conservation Organizers Colleen Friday and Signa McAdams at the 2023 Indigenous Youth Climate and Culture Camp on the Eastern Shoshone bison pasture.

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition recently received a hefty grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support conservation efforts on the Wind River Reservation. The more than $600,000 grant comes from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the America the Beautiful Initiative, and will go towards bison reintroduction, habitat restoration, and climate resilience projects in the area.

“We believe water is life, buffalo is power, and food is healing. Thanks to the grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, our team is ready to elevate Tribal conservation priorities within this important corner of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” said Wes Martel in a press release, who’s Eastern Shoshone and is the Senior Wind River Conservation Associate with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Some of the funding will help support wetland restoration projects on the Big Wind River and Crow Creek, which have been heavily impacted by livestock grazing and non-native plant species. Charles Drimal, the Deputy Director of Conservation with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said restoring native plants that can help minimize run-off is even more crucial as the region becomes drier and drier.

“We're helping to promote keeping that water both in the groundwater through natural water storage and in our rivers longer into the summer,” he said.

The river restoration work will also help to support important habitat for beavers and trumpeter swans.

Another big focus of the grant is supporting both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in their efforts to restore bison to the landscape. The funding will help both tribes and their partners continue to work towards the goal of having more than 1,000 bison on more than 100,000 acres on the reservation. Currently, there are a little less than 200 bison between the two tribes.

Drimal said the grant will also provide a lot more organizing power and capacity to engage people on the ground about what matters most to them.

“A lot of the opportunities that we're investing in are building community support and hearing from the community about this work,” he said.

The grant will help support more opportunities for hands-on restoration work for Tribal youth, elders, and community members as well as more place-based field trips, like the ones that were held in the fall of 2023 at the Eastern Shoshone bison pasture.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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