More than 100 cords of wood have been donated and delivered to the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation and more is on the way, thanks to coordinated efforts involving University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, the U.S. Forest Service and a group of government agencies, tribal partners, private companies and nonprofit organizations in northern Arizona.
The wood is desperately needed for cooking, boiling water and heating inside many Hopi and Navajo homes in an area where tribal border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult for tribal members to collect and transport firewood from nearby forests. In addition, the closure of the Black Mesa coal mine in 2019 increased local dependence on wood as a fuel source.
To help meet the need, the Forest Service is coordinating with partners to harvest and deliver wood from forest restoration projects to tribes. The fuelwood comes from forest thinning projects of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative and National Forest Foundation's Northern Arizona Forest Fund. Forest thinning is used to help restore forest structure and pattern, and removal of wood from forests is important to reduce the risk of severe wildfire.
Wood has been delivered by Joe Dirt Excavating, with funding from the National Forest Foundation and discretionary funds from UArizona Tribal Extension programs.
In addition to providing funding for pilot deliveries, the National Forest Foundation is working on developing mechanisms to more directly provide fuelwood to tribal communities in the future.
"Our goal is to scale up these approaches, providing more sustainable opportunities to meet tribal fuelwood needs, while also growing our own capacity to implement forest and watershed restoration projects on Forest Service lands," said Rebecca Davidson, director of the Southern Rockies Field Program for National Forest Foundation.
Since March, more than 100 cords of wood have been delivered to three Hopi and Navajo communities. UArizona Tribal Extension agents and U.S. Forest Service Tribal Relations Specialist Jeanne Stevens coordinated with tribal members and nonprofit organizations to cut and distribute the wood to tribal elders and others in need.
"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," said Henry Provencio, innovations and efficiencies coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service's Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Flagstaff.
Provencio and several of the other project partners 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 project to address impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on Indian Country. Representatives from the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation spoke about the dire need for wood for their communities, and Provencio described the firewood resources that the U.S. Forest Service could provide if a few logistical challenges were overcome.
In the following weeks, Provencio and others from the conference 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 work out logistics along with Stevens and tribal extension agents Susan Sekaquaptewa (Hopi) and Grey Farrell Jr. (Navajo).
Teegerstrom, Sekaquaptewa, Farrell and other agents are part of the federally recognized Tribal Extension Program, which seeks to continue the land-grant university mission of inclusion – providing education and research-based knowledge to a historically underserved audience.
"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 really highlighted the need."
The response from the communities has been positive, with wood being picked up immediately and many asking if there will be more deliveries. The group is now looking for funding and resources to help the program continue into the future, including an effort to bring wood from New Mexico in collaboration with Cooperative Extension agents Nathan Notah and Kristy Kinlicheenie of Window Rock, and Alexandra Carlisle of Shiprock.