Tribes provided state grants for the first time to conserve Virginia woodland

In a mission to reclaim lands lost since Captain John Smith’s first expeditions through the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, state and federally recognized Indigenous tribes are drawing on federal funds.

Two tribes were recognized last week grants directly from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund (VLCF) to acquire and conserve forest lands for the first time. The grants cover only part of the cost of acquiring land and are available to the tribes for two years.

During this time, the remaining financing must be raised so that a successful real estate transaction can take place. A one-year extension may be granted if progress is made on the acquisition, said Suzan Bulbulkaya, land conservation manager in the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The historic moment resulted from legislation passed earlier this year, allowing Virginia’s state and federally recognized tribes to receive grants from VLCF, one of them the state’s major sources of conservation funding, financed from the budget. In the past, the tribes had to work with another public body, e.g. B. a non-profit organization or government program to receive these funds.

The Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe received $310,000 to purchase over 800 acres in King William County and the Rappahannock Tribe of Virginia received $500,000 to purchase approximately 700 acres in Richmond County.

“We are thrilled to have received these applications and to be able to help the tribes,” said Bulbulkaya. “VLCF funds are often used as seed capital to leverage other federal funds and private funds, and it is exciting to see these new facilities and the energy and variety of funding they will bring.”

The ability to use other means is “extremely important when trying to acquire land because the Land Conservation Fund doesn’t have money for the whole thing,” Rappahannock Chief said G Anne Richardson.

VLCF grants to tribes contribute to a recent surge in tribal land acquisitions in Virginia that began with their long-awaited federal government recognition in 2018.

Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a nonprofit that has partnered with Rappahannock on land conservation efforts, said “the pattern that is emerging” with the acquisition of tribal lands in Virginia “marks a new era for the conservation movement in Virginia.” Chesapeake and beyond.”

The Return of the Rappahannock to the River

The Rappahannock Ribe is seeking to acquire approximately 700 acres of land to be combined with the 400 acres Successfully acquired in April along the famous Fones Cliffs of the Rappahannock River.

Three historic villages along this stretch of river known as Wecuppom, matchopick and pissacoack, were home to the Rappahannock long before the first English colonists arrived.

The area where the Rappahannock tribe intends to acquire and maintain land.

One goal of the tribe is to bring all three of those cities back into our tribe and put them on federal trust, never to be desecrated again,” Richardson said.

In addition to its cultural importance, Fones Cliffs is also a critical habitat for bald eagles and other migratory birds. Richardson noted, “These cliffs are really important to the whole ecosystem over there, and we want it to stay that way, not just for the tribesmen, but for all the people and the diet of the people along this river.”

By preserving land holdings inland along the river, the tribe plans to combine the land it acquired in April with two properties owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create a more contiguous stretch of protected woodland. When purchased, the property is placed in trust by the tribe with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and placed under servitude with US Fish and Wildlife.

We are very confident that with a charitable seller, some successful grant applications and hard work, we will be able to acquire another property for and with the tribe,” said Dunn.

The return of the Upper Mattaponi to the river

If the upper Mattaponi Indian tribe manages to acquire over 800 acres of land that includes a stretch of shoreline along the Mattaponi River, it will be the first time the tribe has been connected by land to its namesake waterway since it was established during that time was expelled from the region colonization.

“The acquisition of a riverfront property is of the utmost importance to the future of our tribe and the ideas we have for the advancement of our tribe,” said the Upper Mattaponi Chief W Frank Adams.

Leigh Mitchell, the tribe’s environmental and heritage director, said the acquisition is “just the start for the tribe to be actively involved in the management of these watersheds going forward.”

The property is also the site of a former sand and gravel mine that will require some cleanup — a situation tribes face as they reclaim land, Mitchell said.

“Unfortunately, as is the case with many tribes that now have government recognition and are able to establish their land base as sovereign nations, the lands available to the tribes typically have environmental issues,” she said. The Upper Mattaponi, she added, hope to restore the site “so that it’s not just an eyesore, but really will be a diverse, healthy habitat and ecosystem.”

The tribe has not yet decided whether to entrust the land to a government agency or a conservation group, or grant it an easement. However, the grant application includes some ideas for public access to the property, including installing hiking trails and a kayak ramp.

“Having a private area on the river is such a big deal to us,” Adams said. “If we’re going to do a religious ceremony or a cultural ceremony, you really don’t want spectators and/or strangers showing up and using your property.”