Native American tribes partner with Kaibab Forest to protect cultural resources on Bill Williams

A Williams district biologist talks with Hopi tribal members about protecting cultural resources on Bill Williams Mountain. (USFS/Kaibab National Forest)

A Williams district biologist talks with Hopi tribal members about protecting cultural resources on Bill Williams Mountain. (USFS/Kaibab National Forest)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Kaibab National Forest is partnering with Native American tribes to protect and restore cultural resources on Bill Williams Mountain, in northern Arizona, as it moves forward with a multi-year restoration project that will thin more than 15,00 acres of dense vegetation on the mountain.

Bill Williams Mountain is a sacred place to several Native American tribes, and many of the plants and resources found on the mountain are important to the tribes’ ongoing traditional and cultural practices, according to Kaibab National Forest (KNF).

The Bill Williams Mountain Restoration Project was approved in 2015. KNF completed several restoration areas on the mountain in 2017.

The reason for the restoration project is to help protect Bill Williams from wildfire activity. According to the Forest Officials, a massive forest fire on Bill Williams could affect air quality, the watershed, the reservoirs for the city of Williams, several communication towers, fire fighter safety, historical and cultural sites and a fragile mountain ecosystem.

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Hopi tribal members evaluate progress on restoration efforts on Bill Williams Mountain. (USFS/Kaibab National Forest)

“We are making a lot of progress around the base of the mountain now, as well as on some of the steep slopes on the south side,” said Jackie Banks, public affairs officer for KNF.

To help secure the future of the mountain and the cultural sites, along with its valuable plant life, KNF developed a partnership with tribes to protect and restore the mountain and provide access to these important resources.

This outreach started several years ago before the project was implemented.

On April 3, KNF conducted field visits with representatives from the Havasupai, Hopi and Hualapai tribes, and the Pueblo of Zuni, in order for them to monitor ongoing restoration treatments on the mountain. The trip also helped solicit comments and recommendations from tribal partners.

“We have a long history of tribal partnerships on the forest. It’s one of the things that we really emphasize with our tribal relationship program —trying to find ways where what tribes want to do intersects with our Forest Service mission in ways that we can work together,” said Mike Lyndon, a Tribal Relations Program Manager with Kaibab National Forest.

With a broad mission statement, Lyndon said the Forest Service has had many opportunities to work with tribes.

When the Forest Service first developed an analysis for the restoration project it took tribal representatives on field visits to Bill Williams. While there tribal representatives looked at current conditions and were shown the need for the restoration.

“Seeing those conditions up there on the mountain and how unhealthy those conditions are, (the tribes) were very supportive of doing restoration work on the mountain,” Lyndon said.

“Whenever we’re doing projects on the mountain, particularly one like this which is a pretty intensive restoration project, it means that we work really closely with tribes — consulting and letting them know what we’re thinking of doing and getting their feedback, comments and working with them in that process and incorporating them into our final plan of what we’re going to do out there,” Lyndon added.

Currently, Bill Williams Mountain is managed under a traditional cultural property through the National Historic Preservation Act. The Forest Service also manages it under its forest management plan, which means the mountain has specific management direction based on the cultural value of the mountain.

Tribal recommendations for Bill Williams Mountain

As the Forest Service moves forward with the project, Lyndon said the tribes have had very specific interests and recommendations, based on the cultural values on the mountain.

“(There were) a lot of specific interests on the mountain (and) things that tribal representatives wanted to ensure were going to be protected and recommendations on ways that we go about doing things,” Lyndon said.

This included protection of valuable plants to the tribes and the identification of these plants and other sensitive areas.

To help facilitate the identification of these plants, the Forest Service contracted a Hualapai ethnobotany program to conduct an ethnobotanical survey on the mountain.

“So now we have that information to share with all the tribes and to use for our own management,” Lyndon said.

Another major point of interest for tribes was having access to resources like firewood and timbers.

Lyndon said forest products like timbers, fuelwood, posts and poles and plants — things that can be obtained on the mountain, are in high demand by tribal members.

These products are used for a variety of purposes by tribes including firewood and construction of traditional structures.

“So we’re trying to open up access to provide those to tribes,” he said.

According to Lyndon, the Forest Service has the authority to provide these products to tribes at no cost when they are used for traditional and cultural purposes. The Forest Service is currently exploring ways to help facilitate access to these products for tribes.

“Our goal here is — we don’t want to just come out, have a conversation with tribes and then go out and implement this project. We want them to be continually engaged in the project,” Lyndon said.

Additionally, the Forest Service plans to consistently monitor the project on the mountain over the next several years with tribes in order for them to constantly check in and provide feedback about the project.

Restorations completed to Bill Williams Mountain in 2017

Some of the restoration completed by Kaibab National Forest in 2017 on Bill Williams included the following:

Employees planned and laid out more than 3,500 acres to be included in timber sales. This involved developing prescriptions for these acres and marking trees within them. According to Banks, Forest Service will be seeking to offer these acres in timber sales to local contractors and others who may be able to support the forest restoration effort.

Additionally, more than 700 acres were treated using hand thinning operations on the steep slopes of the south side of Bill Williams Mountain. Because of the inability of most heavy equipment to reach these challenging areas, crews carried in chainsaws to accomplish the work.

Finally, more than 200 acres were treated using mechanical thinning, meaning heavy equipment, along Forest Road 122 south of Bill Williams Mountain. Banks sad this treatment is intended to serve as a buffer for any wildfires that might get started south of the mountain. She said this is a particularly important place to treat given prevailing winds in northern Arizona and the typical direction of wildfire spread due to those winds. This is also a critical treatment due to the high recreational use in this area and the resulting potential for unwanted, human-caused wildfires that could pose threats to the mountain and to the Williams community.

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