Work is nearly completed on a federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) site on Tribal lands. The former wood treatment facility on the reservation was contaminated with several contaminants. The tribe works closely with the EPA to remove contaminants left by the landís previous occupants. Then land was designated a CERCLA site in 1992 and cleanup work began in 1996.
A growing concern throughout the Southwest, as well as the U.S. in general, soil erosion damages the environment and the biological community by decreasing plant productivity. Because of increased development in the surrounding areas, rain that usually seeps into the soil is now diverted into streams and channels. This increases bank and soil erosion.
The Tribe is working to combat the negative effects of erosion by implementing erosion control measures. The EPA provided partial funding to install bank stabilization structures in Slaughterhouse Gulch to reduce bank erosion. In addition, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the EPA have provided funds to build gabions throughout the Reservation to address eroding washes. A gabion is a mesh wire cage with rocks that traps sediment and other debris as water flows through it. It also helps prevent erosion by slowing the flow of water through the channel.
Fire Management Plan and Wildland/Urban Interface
As wildfires are a continuing threat to the Southwestern landscape, the Tribe is working to write a Fire Management Plan for the Reservation. It will discuss the effects of fire on the Tribeís biological, geological and cultural resources. The plan will also outline fire prevention efforts, as well as rehabilitation efforts in the event of a fire on the Reservation.
The Wildland/Urban Interface project (WUI) is being developed to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire on the Reservation. The WUI project will allow for "defensible space" to be created around homes and structures to minimize the impact should a fire move through the Reservation and the surrounding area. Creating defensible space involves removing dead wood and clearing brush from under decks and close to buildings and cutting "ladder fuels" -- combustible objects that a fire can consume to reach the tops of trees. The plan will also educate residents regarding fire dangers and encourage them to maintain their landscapes to minimize fire dangers.
Granite Creek Riparian Wetland Restoration Project
Granite Creek was once a lush riparian environment. Cottonwoods, ashes, willows, grasses and shrubs crowded the banks of the creek, providing habitat for native and migratory bird and animal species. In the late 1800s, the landscape began to change. Cattle and sheep ranchers grazed their herds along the Creek's flood plain, devouring the rich grasses and young tree saplings. This led to a generation gap in the trees. As the older trees died, there were no young trees to replace them. In addition, the Creek was home to gold mining in the late 1800s and gravel mining into the 1980s. Mining disrupted the flow of the Creek and displaced the channel.
The Wetland Restoration Project was designed to return the area to a riparian zone. Industrial debris was removed and an irrigation system was installed. The project was completed in three phases: Phase I planted native trees directly adjacent to the Creek. Phase II included planting in the lower flood plain adjacent to Phase I and Phase III involved planting the upper terrace.
Today, the Tribe's Environmental Action Committee is monitoring the project. Approximately 10% of the more than 6,000 trees planted are being studied for tree height, trunk width, canopy cover and overall health. Projected survival rate for the trees is 50%. The project has created a wetland that can now begin to function as a riparian zone should. These functions include providing habitat for native and migratory bird and animal species, encouraging wetland plant species' growth, encouraging growth of plant species that will restore the benefits of wetland areas -- natural storage areas and water filters -- and providing an aesthetically pleasing area for current and future generations to enjoy.