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A Growing Future for Agriculture

September 5, 2019
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The Wind River Indian Reservation Agricultural Resource Management Plan puts control in the hands of the tribes.

By Micaela Myers

The Wind River Indian Reservation stretches across 2.2 million acres, including vast amounts of grazing land as well as land used for crop production. Overall, agriculture contributes roughly $21 million to the reservation’s economy, with a potential to increase to $33 million with the right management and development.

In order to gain control of their own agriculture management, the Wind River Agriculture Producers, in conjunction with the Eastern Shoshone Business Council and Northern Arapaho Business Council, applied for a grant to create a comprehensive plan, hiring University of Wyoming Department of Ecosystem Science and Management Associate Professor Ginger Paige, Department of Geography Professor William Gribb and Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics Professor Roger Coupal as consultants.

Paige says: “One of the biggest issues was not having a say in how their resources were managed or how the Bureau of Indian Affairs made some of those decisions. They weren’t necessarily made locally. Having control in water and agriculture production issues is critical on the reservation.”

The Office of the Tribal Water Engineer took the lead in the development of the Agricultural Resource Management Plan. Tribal Water Engineer Mitch Cottenoir says: “The plan takes the management of the agricultural resources out of the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and puts it in the hands of the tribes. And the tribes worked together to come up with goals and objectives, policies and procedures that will accomplish what they see as the need for development on the reservation.”

The American Indian Agricultural Resource Management Act allows tribes that have plans approved by the Department of Interior to gain control over their agricultural resource management. Work on the Wind River Indian Reservation Agricultural Resource Management Plan began in 2015. Both tribal councils approved the 65-page plan in June 2018, and it will soon be submitted to the Department of Interior.

“We met with various groups on the reservation,” Cottenoir says. “We had community meetings and focus groups. Then we also had a working group that worked extensively on the project. Bill and Ginger acted as facilitators to record the comments and the input of all the various people on the project and put it together in the format of the agricultural plan.”

Nine major topics—agricultural management, water, agricultural economics, land leasing, land tenure, rangeland productivity, cropland productivity, wildlife management, and agricultural and natural resource information management—were identified. The plan proposes an Office of Agriculture and Natural Resources to facilitate the plan. It also proposed a system that develops agriculture on the reservation, is economically viable and sustainable, preserves natural resources and traditional ways, and encourages new farmers and ranchers. It includes a governance and an administrative structure. Under the main office, a proposed agriculture economic development office would facilitate growth.

Paige says, “That’s why we had Roger Coupal on this project. We needed someone who could talk about the resources available, how we could test different economic models, how we could make sure it’s viable, and how we should set up that structure.”

The plan includes 12 goals, 46 objectives and 88 policies. The UW team is working with the tribes to identify grant funding to test some of the policies and create an implementation plan. 

“Ginger and Bill and their group have worked closely with us on other projects, too,” Cottenoir says. “They’ve been a good and strong partner in putting together various plans and looking at different aspects of water and agriculture on reservation.”

The plan ushers in a new era for agriculture on the Wind River reservation. Cottenoir says, “I think the main thing that we wanted to accomplish through this is to put the development and processes into the hands of the tribal members and agriculture producers.”

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