Over the 125 years that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has managed the Pine Ridge Reservation, they have provided almost zero management of the tribe’s forest resources. As a result, the pine forest has shrunk considerably and in many places there are no longer enough trees to guarantee sustainability of the forest. Through discussions with Oglala Lakota leadership and representatives of several local Pine Ridge organizations, serious concerns have been expressed about the condition and viability of the remaining forests.
Our partners at Trees, Water & People (TWP) have a long history and much success growing and planting tree seedlings around the world. In fact, they have grown and planted over 5.6 million trees since 1998! They were asked to develop a tree planting project on the Pine Ridge Reservation and we are happy to help with the planting! This new endeavor aims to replant the legendary pine ridges, while also engaging Native American youth in the restoration efforts.
To initiate this effort, we established a partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service, who used seeds from South Dakota to grow 10,000 ponderosa pine seedlings in their greenhouses. Over the winter, we worked with TWP and our local partners at Pine Ridge to identify and select specific tribal lands for our first reforestation project (about 17.5 acres in total). We also worked with these partners to recruit members of the tribe who will work with us on this project.
A few weeks back, TWP staff drove the seedlings from the Colorado State Forest Service tree nursery in Fort Collins to our greenhouse at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. This was a long journey for the small seedlings, but they all made it safe and sound!
Over the past couple of weeks, LSE staff, volunteers and tribal members have planted 6,000 of the 10,000 trees – the start of an important reforestation program for the Oglala Lakota Tribe! In the coming weeks, tribal members will finish planting the remaining pine trees, participating directly in the conservation and management of their local forests. More updates to come as these little ponderosa pines mature and become an integral part of the Pine Ridge ecosystem!