I had the honor a few weeks ago of speaking to the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. It was important for me to go out there and meet with members of the Native American conservation community because Tribes deserve a seat at the table where conservation decisions are made and priorities set. And to form that kind of true partnership, we must develop a relationship based on trust and shared values. I hope my visit helped that process.
We need to work together toward a lasting impact on the landscape. No one – not the Fish and Wildlife Service nor any other organization – is large enough to make a true difference acting alone.
We do already work together. Native American Tribes have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us on many successes. The White Mountain Apache Tribe has helped with the Apache trout in Arizona. The Nez Perce were integral to returning gray wolves to the Northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho.
I remember too a brisk and windy November day in 2011 when I had the privilege of helping release about 20 endangered black-footed ferrets onto Lower Brule Tribal lands in central South Dakota. “Release” is an interesting word to use for it. In most cases, those ferrets seemed to strongly prefer the “devil-I-know” corrugated drain pipe segment that was the simulated, prairie-dog hole of their cage, to the “devil-I-don’t-know” that was the real prairie dog hole we were releasing them to. Six of the 20 ferret reintroduction sites are on Tribal lands.
In fact, Tribes have been with us since before we even became the Fish and Wildlife Service. The first western federal hatchery (Baird Station) was a partnership between the McLeod Wintu Tribe and the U.S. Fish Commission, one of our predecessors, in 1872.
We are working on many efforts to continue to develop our relationship with Tribes. I have convened a Native American Policy Roundtable that includes Service and Tribal professionals. I look to this group to develop a new forward-looking policy.
As I was preparing for the talk, I read a Native American proverb that says, “He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone.”
We are working to conserve the nature of America – I’m certain there is no greater calling than this in civilian service.
But as I said earlier, we can’t do it alone. We need to enrich our partnership with the Tribes. Hopefully my visit will help.