A Range Management Curriculum and Participatory Planning Project for the Tohono O’odham Nation
The unique social, cultural, and historical circumstances of livestock grazing on the Tohono O’odham Nation require that concepts from rangeland science be tailored to the specific biophysical and cultural landscapes on the Tohono O’odham Nation. We believe that resource management is most effective when local resource users are directly involved in management planning, and implementation. To advance our goal of better stewardship using a culturally specific, community-based approach, we propose a project combining the creation of educational opportunities through the development and implementation of a rangeland curriculum with the application of concepts from rangeland science through a participatory planning process.
Objective 1: To develop and implement a Tohono O’odham range management curriculum that incorporates both science and traditional knowledge, and which reflects the specific social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental contexts of livestock husbandry and range management on the Tohono O’odham Nation. This will be done using a collaborative approach involving O’odham livestock owners, natural resource professionals, educators, and community members. In the first year of the grant, we expected to establish a Curriculum Advisory Committee, identify topics to be covered in the curriculum, begin curriculum development, and opportunistically test field units.
Objective 2: To empower livestock producers and other community members to develop and implement range management plans for their communities by expanding the existing participatory rangeland planning pilot project to additional districts. In the first year of this grant, we expected to complete the Sif Oidak pilot plan, evaluate the pilot planning process, write a case study of the Sif Oidak participatory planning process, initiate an educational range management newsletter, and select additional planning sites.
We had a very productive year accomplishing a diversity of activities related to both of our project objectives. In addition to the activities and accomplishments specific to our objectives, we organized or participated in three workshops for producers and natural resource managers in Sif Oidak District: an indoor workshop on range plant identification, a field day assessing rangeland health, and an overnight youth camping trip (ages 10 to 14) focusing on exploring natural resources.
Rangeland Management Curriculum:
We initiated the Curriculum Advisory Committee, which has since grown to include more than 30 participants including individuals from our partner organizations, O’odham livestock owners, and other O’odham community members. The Committee has met four times and has identified goals, content, and format of the curriculum, as well as key individuals who can help develop content and act as instructors during curriculum implementation. An overview PowerPoint Presentation of the curriculum’s series of eight workshops has been presented at community, Tribal legislative committee, and agency meetings in order to share information and solicit feedback during the development process. Additionally, there have been four more requests from communities for such presentations in the near future. Lecture material, field activities, instructors, and potential field sites and workshop dates have been identified. Implementation of the curriculum workshops is scheduled to begin in October 2003 and continue through May 2004.
Additionally, M.S. student Jennifer Arnold has worked with the Advisory Committee to develop a methodology for evaluating the curriculum project. Qualitative evaluation will focus on the social dynamics of collaboration among a diversity of stakeholders, examining the social and political context of rangeland issues on the Tohono O’odham Nation. The proposed methods include participant observation, in-depth interviews, open discussions, and informal focus groups.
Participatory Planning Project:
Using ecological site maps provided by the NRCS, community members assisted M.S. student John Hays in creating a series of GIS maps including ecological site, seasonal livestock use, water points, improvements, and conservation
hazard/action site layers. Community members also participated in collecting field data for Mr. Hays’ research to assess the effects of livestock grazing on perennial grass densities in Sif Oidak. This information will help local producers determine whether conventional range management strategies, such as rest-rotation grazing, are likely to yield the desired outcomes in Sif Oidak’s arid and highly variable environment. Mr. Hays also recorded oral histories of elder livestock owners to document the history of changes in range and livestock management practices in Sif Oidak. This information may help the Sif Oidak Livestock Association as they work toward crafting local guidelines for management of open range, and will also be used in the range management curriculum.
Project staff attended monthly Sif Oidak Livestock Association meetings to discuss all aspects of developing the district’s range management plan. Based on these discussions and the inventory work conducted with community members, a draft plan was developed and presented to the committee in September 2002 for feedback and comments. The final plan was completed in May 2003 and handed over to the livestock association. It is now the role of livestock association members to continue working with the plan within their district, sharing it with the district government and community members, and applying it as they see fit. Given the political and social context in which it was developed, the plan serves as an educational document and a source of ideas and alternatives, rather than a definitive roadmap for action. The Sif Oidak Range Management Plan will also be useful for local producers and the district when applying for assistance through programs like the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). As a result of the participatory planning process, five of Sif Oidak’s nine communities applied for EQIP funding in 2002, primarily for small-scale erosion control and revegetation projects, and two Sif Oidak projects were funded. The planning and community support for these projects represents a major accomplishment for these communities, even for those who were not funded this year. The Sif Oidak participatory planning project will also be documented as a case study for the range management curriculum.
Additional planning sites have not been selected, although the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Sells Office, has been working with the Gu Achi Livestock Association on developing a range management plan. The Gu Achi Livestock Association has also shown interest in using their case as an example for the Range Planning unit of the Rangeland Management Curriculum project.
The publication of the range management newsletter has been delayed due to accounting problems related to the subcontract, which has had to go through the tribal budgeting process. This problem has recently been resolved, and a draft copy of the first edition of the newsletter has been prepared with contributions from many of the partner organizations. This inaugural newsletter is scheduled to be sent out to producers in July 2003.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- Both the curriculum development process and the participatory planning effort in Sif Oidak have increased awareness, discussion, and participation in rangeland issues on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Issues discussed include ownership of feral animals, conflicts over the “invisible boundaries” of community land, reduction of the horse population, the need to increase participation in round-ups, the challenges of applying grazing systems to open range, and the questionable appropriateness of conventional management practices in some of the more arid, shrub-dominated areas of the Nation.
Interaction between livestock owners and natural resource agency personnel has increased as individuals collaborate on both the curriculum and the participatory planning projects.
The participatory planning project, and the workshops associated with it, has increased the knowledge and capacity of livestock producers in Sif Oidak, as evidenced by their successful applications for EQIP support.
The ecological research conducted by M.S. student John Hays makes an important contribution to our understanding of the ecological dynamics of the arid shrub-dominated ecosystems in the northern part of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and we hope it will inform future management recommendations for that area. Specifically, Mr. Hays’ findings indicate that grazing intensity has little impact on the density of perennial forage grasses in this system, suggesting that conventional management strategies that emphasize resting areas during the growing season are unlikely to achieve the desired results in this part of the Nation.