Lead Author:
Maureen I. McCarthy, University of Nevada, Reno, and Desert Research Institute
Contributing Authors:
Beverly Ramsey, Desert Research Institute and Wa-Hi-La, LLC
John Phillips, First Americans Land-Grant Consortium
Margaret H. Redsteer, University of Washington
Science Lead:
Sasha C. Reed, U.S. Geological Survey
Review Editor:
Rachel Melnick, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Federal Liaisons:
Nancy Cavallaro, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Gyami Shrestha, U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program and University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Tribal Lands

Ecological indicators, trends, and feedbacks for carbon cycle processes have not been monitored on tribal lands. As previously discussed, tribal communities that have adopted Eurocentric agricultural and land-use practices, such as raising cattle and growing irrigated crops, likely have land with carbon stocks and fluxes similar to those in neighboring non-tribal lands. In some cases, these stocks and fluxes could result in larger net carbon emissions to the atmosphere on tribal lands where reservation population pressures or adverse climatic conditions have increased land-use stresses. However, for other Indigenous lands, carbon stocks and fluxes may differ considerably from surrounding non-tribal areas because of more traditional and culturally distinct agricultural, forestry, and land-use practices. These practices include dryland farming, no-till seeding, in-ground soil composting, sustainable forest practices, and grazing management of open-range herds of bison and certain varieties of sheep.

Fossil fuel (e.g., oil, gas, and coal) extraction and uranium mining on tribal lands have produced significant ecological disturbances that affect carbon stocks and fluxes. Moreover, the carbon cycle impacts of fossil fuel extraction on tribal lands may exceed the impacts in non-tribal areas with active fossil energy economies when the accompanying ecological impacts are not addressed. In some cases, such as the abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation lands, the impacts of these disturbances were substantially greater compared to surrounding areas (Moore-Nall 2015).

Increased awareness of the value of Indigenous worldviews and traditional knowledge in sustaining landscapes that can effectively sequester carbon in soils and vegetation offers policymakers and resource managers insight into new approaches to carbon cycle management. Trends affecting carbon cycle processes in the future include 1) the cessation of uranium mining and decreases in fossil fuel extraction; 2) increasing on-reservation development and use of renewable energy; and 3) agricultural production adaptations increasingly based on traditional knowledge, which could include, but are not limited to, increasing reliance on traditional drought-resistant crops and agricultural practices and the local production of native foods.

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