Saving Endangered Species on Indian Lands

Article excerpt

American Indian lands in the lower 48 States comprise over 54 million acres, and Alaskan Native lands add approximately 45 million acres. Much of this acreage remains relatively wild and unspoiled. Home to more than 550 tribes, these lands provide the living space, the sacred and cultural sites, and many of the natural resources that tribes need to keep their people and cultures alive. The importance of these lands to the tribes cannot be overstated. They provide spiritual and physical sustenance, and increasingly, the means for economic self-sufficiency. Tribal governments generally place a high priority on preserving these lands and their natural resources, including many vulnerable wildlife species, for future generations.

American Indian tribal lands encompass a vast array of habitat and ecosystems across the conterminous United States and Alaska. Among these lands are the lush lakes and wetlands of reservations in the Great Lakes Region, the prairies of the Ft. Belknap Reservation in Montana, the varied desert habitats of reservations in the southwest and Great Basin, the temperate rain forest of the Quinault Reservation of Washington, and the tundra of Alaskan native lands.

Water is vital as well, from the smallest of streams to the mightiest of rivers. The Trinity River in northern California, where the Yurok, Hoopa, and other tribes formed; the Colorado River, which has nurtured dozens of tribes for thousands of years; the Missouri River, important to over a dozen tribes today; and hundreds of smaller streams and springs with riparian habitats can be found on tribal lands.

These lands provide habitat for a growing number of species listed federally as threatened or endangered. A conservative estimate is that well over 200 such species are located on tribal lands. Many of these species hold particular importance to tribes. Most of us would recognize the importance of the salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) or the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) to American Indians, but the cultural significance of other listed species, such as the cui-ui (Chasmistes cujus), Apache trout (Oncorhynchus apache), black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), and gray wolf (Canis lupus), is lesser known. …