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COVID-19 Response Effort Provides Crucial Firewood Supply to Hopi and Navajo Homes


A long-term solution for meeting Hopi and Navajo home energy needs is underway

In the last six months, more than 100 cords of wood have been donated and delivered to the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation through growing collaborative efforts. The USDA Forest Service, Tribal Extension agents, Tribal partners, the National Forest Foundation (NFF), and Joe Dirt Excavating have worked together to provide life-sustaining wood supplies to meet the needs of many tribal members. This collaborative group welcomes new partners that wish to join this effort.

The wood is desperately needed for cooking, boiling water, and heating inside many Hopi and Navajo homes, in an area where Tribal border closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult for Tribal members to collect and transport firewood from nearby forests. Also, the closure of the Black Mesa coal mine in 2019 increased local dependence on wood as a fuel source.

To help meet this need, the Forest Service is coordinating with partners to harvest and deliver wood from forest restoration projects to Tribes. The fuelwood is a product that comes from forest thinning projects that are part of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative and NFF's Northern Arizona Forest Fund projects, among others. Forest thinning is used to help restore forest structure and pattern, and removal of wood from forests is essential to reduce the risk of severe wildfire. As part of these first efforts, wood has been delivered by Joe Dirt Excavating, with funding from the NFF and discretionary funds from tribal extension programs.

By getting wood out to the reservations we can hopefully create a win-win situation where we're getting our forests in a healthier condition, and we're also providing a valuable resource to the tribal members.

Henry Provencio, Innovations & Efficiencies Coordinator with the Forest Service's Four Forest Restoration Initiative

Provencio and several of the other project partners, including the NFF, ran a similar pilot project earlier in 2020, delivering a load of wood to the Navajo Nation in Cameron, Arizona, in March. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the program was delayed due to challenges with transportation, labor sources, and funding.

In late March, Provencio joined a weekly video conference call organized by the Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) project to address the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis in Indian Country. Representatives from the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation spoke to the dire need for wood for their communities, and Provencio described the firewood resources that the Forest Service could provide if a few logistical challenges were overcome.

Cameron Chapter House Tribal Leaders Accepting Fuelwood Supplies

In the following weeks, Provencio and others from the NWAL call joined forces to make it happen. Trent Teegerstrom, Director of Tribal Extension for the University of Arizona, located a source of funding and helped worked out logistics along with Tribal Extension agents Susan Sekaquaptewa (Hopi) and Grey Farrell, Jr., (Navajo), and USFS Tribal Relations Specialist Jeanne Stevens.

Since March, the group has successfully delivered 100 cords of wood to three Hopi and Navajo communities. Tribal extension agents and Jeanne Stevens, USFS Tribal Relations Specialist, coordinated with Tribal members and non-profit organizations, including Gore, to cut and distribute the wood to Tribal elders and others in need. The response from the communities has been very positive, with wood being picked up immediately and many asking if there will be more deliveries.

"It's been really exciting to be able to find the funding and resources we need to make this happen, meeting a real need for the people in these communities," Teegerstrom said. "Now we're looking at a longer-term plan for making this program sustainable in the long run, because there is a continual supply of wood as these groups do forest thinning. It isn't a new need, but the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need."

The group is now looking for funding and resources to help this program continue, including an effort to bring wood from New Mexico in collaboration with Nathan Notah and Kristy Kinlicheenie of Window Rock Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program (FRTEP), and Alexandra Carlisle of Shiprock FRTEP.

In addition to providing funding for pilot deliveries, the NFF is also working on developing mechanisms to more directly provide fuelwood to Tribal communities.

"Our goal is to scale up these approaches, providing more sustainable opportunities to meet Tribal fuelwood needs while also growing our capacity to implement forest and watershed restoration projects on Forest Service lands," said Rebecca Davidson, Director of the Southern Rockies Field Program for NFF.

About Native Waters on Arid Lands

The Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL; https://nativewaters-aridlands.com) project seeks to enhance the climate resiliency of agriculture on American Indian lands of the Great Basin and Southwest by building the capacity within tribal communities to develop and implement reservation-wide plans, policies, and practices to support sustainable agriculture and water management. Members of the NWAL team are committed to helping our Tribal partners during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about our work on issues related to COVID-19 in Indian Country, please visit: https://arcg.is/15Pma8

About the National Forest Foundation

The National Forest Foundation works on behalf of the American public to inspire personal and meaningful connections to our National Forests. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF leads forest conservation efforts and promotes responsible recreation. Each year the NFF restores fish and wildlife habitat, facilitates common ground, plants trees in areas affected by fires, insects, and disease and improves recreational opportunities. The NFF believes our National Forests and all they offer are an American treasured and are vital to the health of our communities. Learn more at nationalforests.org.

About Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program (FRTEP)

FRTEP agents serve as a conduit between 1862 land grant institutions and Tribes that provide unparalleled educational services and leadership to a historically underserved audience. Their impacts are far-reaching and valuable because we are leading, developing, strengthening, and improving individuals and communities. They are instrumental in eliminating cultural boundaries between Tribes and communities outside reservation boundaries in programming areas including agriculture and natural resource management, horticulture, farm business management, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H/Youth Development

About the U.S. Forest Service

The USDA Forest Service Southwestern Region is comprised of 20.6 million acres and 11 national forests in Arizona and New Mexico and three national grasslands in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Southwestern Region picturesque landscape is complemented by sudden bursts of alpine peaks, colorful mesas, and breathtaking canyons. The region is arid but also features wild whitewater rivers and clear mountain streams. Renowned for its culture, this area's unique heritage is visible in its wealth of historical sites.