What makes a conservation plan successful? The ranchers of Tolani Lake might say that having effective partnerships is key.
The Navajo Nation is in the semi-arid southwest. Tolani Lake is located about 40 miles north of Winslow, Arizona. This area is composed of seven eco-sites and receives 6” – 10” of precipitation annually.
The most recent drought has lasted five years and having a drought tolerant operation is something ranchers must plan for in the face of climate change and changing weather patterns.
In the mid-2000’s, ranchers of Tolani Lake decided to address the problem of inadequate livestock and wildlife waters by improving distribution. With the help of the Natural resources Conservation Service, they began the process of developing a conservation plan with the support of the Tolani Lake Chapter and Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources.
At the root of this project was a technical understanding of the rangeland ecosystem.
Learning about the Conservation Planning process was the purpose of the training. Funded by First Nations, Steve Barker, consultant, conducted the training. To begin this process, it was imperative that the ranchers understand the nine steps of conservation planning and have a fundamental understanding of the Animal Unit concept. He also made sure that people understood the importance of having a forage-livestock balance. Felix Nez, NRCS District Conservationist, stressed that ranchers are grass farmers, not cattle ranchers. To further bring home that point, the participants of the training were in the field estimating the forage production and calculating stocking rates themselves.
What is a conservation plan without money to fund range improvements and practices? Just a plan.
Al Thomas, Rancher and former President of Tolani Lake Livestock & Water Users Association, says the partnership between NRCS, the BIA, BOR, and the Chapter made this project successful because it meant that each entity was able to leverage its funding and resources to implement the plan.
The project was not without its challenges. At one point the Navajo Nation Department of Justice intervened and stopped the NRCS EQIP project stating that the Tolani Lake Chapter was not Local Governance Act certified and therefore, cannot do outside contracts. They were able to overcome this by re-initiating the project through Tolani Lake Enterprises, acting as their Fiscal Agent.
Assembled by Dustin Sweet with data from INCA Conservation Staff