Norton distributing wildlife grants to tribes

Sixty tribes in 23 states will share in nearly $14 million in federal grants under two programs designed to conserve and recover endangered, threatened and at-risk species and other wildlife.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton plans to announce the recipients of the Tribal Landowner Incentive Program and the Tribal Wildlife Grant Program today. The awards will assist tribes in states from Alabama to Wyoming.

The money isn't part of the new 2005 budget. Indian Country will have to wait until next Monday to hear what's in store for millions of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

But the programs are a new initiative for the Bush administration. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took applications from dozens of tribes interested in protecting their lands.

Through the Tribal Landowner Incentive Program, tribes will be able to protect and restore habitats that benefit endangered, threatened and at-risk species. Norton will announce $3.9 million in grants under this program.

The Tribal Wildlife Grants enable tribes to develop programs to benefit wildlife, including species that are not hunted or fished, and their habitats. Norton is announcing $9.9 million in this area.

The money allocated for Indian Country is just a small portion of the amount going to states. In 2002, Congress authorized $39.7 million for conservation grants, of which tribes received 10 percent. Congress set aside nearly $10 million in 2002 and 2003, out of more than $144 million, for tribal wildlife grants.

In testimony to Congress, Norton has said the grants enable tribes and states develop their own species and wildlife protection programs "without Washington mandates or red tape."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has its own endangered species program, which has seen ups and downs under the Bush administration. After first proposing cuts, the White House asked for an increase of $2 million last year.

But even more money is in store for the current year. When Congress passed Interior's spending bill last month, lawmakers authorized $69.5 million for tribal wildlife grants.

Nationwide, wildlife and habitat protection has become more important for tribes, many of whom work with states and local governments to protect endangered species. In South Dakota and Montana, tribes are helping restore prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. In Idaho, it's wolves and bears. In New Mexico, tribes are affected by complex litigation over fish.

More and more tribes are also dealing with invasive species, which contribute to high fire risks on reservations. In some states, tribal officials are trying to protect their wildlife and habitat from critters that destroy trees and cause other problems.

Relevant Links:
Tribal Grant Programs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - http://grants.fws.gov/tribal.html