In the southwestern United States, the ongoing spread of invasive plants has resulted in significant damage to rangelands, watersheds, and private property. On the Navajo Nation, the impact of non-native weed species presents a significant problem to their economy. Weed infestations have been attributed to declines in agricultural productivity, property damage, habitat loss, and soil degradation. Such impacts have far-reaching effects within this community, where agriculture represents a significant portion of the economy. To proactively address the issue, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Regional Office (BIA) sought to develop an integrated weed management plan. The plan provides a strategic approach to planning, implementation, and monitoring of weed management projects, including a streamlined approach to environmental compliance, a toolbox of weed treatment techniques for combating a wide array of weed species, and guidance on practical monitoring methods to evaluate project effectiveness. In developing the plan, the BIA also sought to address environmental compliance needs for the plan, which included the preparation of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, a Programmatic Biological Assessment for federally and tribally-listed species of concern, and a Programmatic Agreement with the Navajo Historic Preservation Department for addressing cultural resource concerns. The plan is the first of its kind of the BIA, representing a regional programmatic planning effort to address a significant natural resource issue.
Technical Contribution of Heidi Trathnigg as an employee of Fred Phillips Consulting
Heidi served as the Project Manager for the project, managing the development of the plan and the NEPA compliance process for the BIA.
- Project Management – Managed project communication with the BIA’s COR and CO to address contract needs, such as budget modifications, timeline extensions, and changes in invoicing. Prepared regular progress reports and updated project timelines.
- Public Scoping – Developed presentations in English to explain background information, proposed approaches to weed management, identification of known issues, and the NEPA process. Facilitated discussion with public about potential issues of concern and questions regarding the plan’s development and the project timeline. Prepared the Public Scoping Report on scoping efforts, including notification of meetings, meeting attendance, summary of comments received, and issues identified.
- Cooperating Agency Communications – Facilitated meetings and communications with identified Cooperating Agencies for the projects. Assisted with informal Section 7 Consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife to identify species of concern. Provided regular project updates to stakeholders regarding document reviews, comment periods, and additional information needed for the project.
- Weed Management Plan – Preparation of the weed management plan, including information on target weed species and the most effective means of control, identification of 21 proposed herbicides for chemical control, and identification of potential biological control agents approved by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.
- Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement – Prepared the purpose and need for the action, the decision framework, and proposed alternatives for the draft EIS. Analyzed background and impacts to wildlife species and resource use.
- Programmatic Biological Assessment – Prepared the biological assessment for federally and tribally managed wildlife species, including aquatic, terrestrial, and amphibious species.
Technical Contribution of Sabrina Kleinman as an employee of Fred Phillips Consulting
- GIS Analysis – Organization of weed mapping data from five Navajo Agencies into a comprehensive database of weed populations, locations, and species to identify current state of known weed populations on the Navajo Nation. Developed standardized parameters for documenting weed populations. Creation of informational maps for the draft EIS to identify locations of specific resources examined in the analysis, including medical facilities, soils, surface and bedrock geological composition, vegetation communities, rights-of-way, road networks, designated agricultural land units, and watersheds.
- Project Consultations – Facilitated discussions with the Navajo Nation EPA to address potential concerns and planning needs for water quality, active and inactive wells, and collaboration with their watershed restoration program. Assisted with informal Section 7 Consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- Public Scoping – Developed print and radio advertising materials to announce public scoping meeting locations and project needs. Developed posters on proposed target weed species and known impacts on the Navajo Nation. Assisted with organization and review of scoping comments.
- Weed Management Plan – Developed weed mapping guidance for comprehensive data collection and to address data sharing needs with project partners. Developed information on proposed biological control agents approved through the APHIS program.
- Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement – Co-authored the public draft of the NEPA compliance document and conducted impact analyses on weed management techniques on major resource areas, including vegetation, soils, geology, public health, recreational use, socioeconomics, climate change, and water resources.
- Programmatic Biological Assessment – Prepared major portions of document to assess effects of weed management on federally and tribally listed plant species.