Indian Affairs | Branch of Agriculture and Rangeland Development
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Branch of Agriculture and Rangeland Development

The Agriculture & Range program supports the Department’s goal of Serving Communities by improving the management of land and natural resource assets. The program assists American Indians and Alaska Natives in developing conservation and management plans to protect and preserve their natural resources on trust land and shared off-reservation resources. Under the authority of The American Indian Agricultural Resource Management Act, P.L. 103-177 and the Indian Self Determination Act, P.L. 93-638, the program provides support for tribal agricultural programs under tribal contracts and direct implementation, covering over 46 million acres of Indian land used for farming and grazing by livestock and game animals. Bureau staff provide oversight and technical assistance to tribal programs at the agency level involving Indian farmers and ranchers in the following eight major activities:

Inventory: Conduct soil and range inventories, land evaluations and range utilization; collect data about soil productivity, erosion, stability problems, and other physical land factors for program development, conservation planning, and water rights claims settlements. This program funds range inventories and range utilization surveys in order to identify vegetative cover, range condition, precipitation zones, current forage utilization, and establish the season of use, and recommended type and numbers of livestock to be grazed.

Farm and Range Planning: Develop land management plans in response to the demands made upon the supply of renewable resources and the goals and objectives of the Tribe and landowners. The Bureau staff provides technical assistance to Indian landowners, tribal governments and land users to develop, update, and amend land use plans under the principles of sustained-yield management to ensure adequate resources will be available in the future.

Rangeland Improvements: Provide technical assistance to Tribes in preparing and designing land leveling, farm drainage, cropping patterns, crop varieties, application of irrigation water, farm pond specifications, wind and water erosion control recommendations, surveys for fencing, stock water engineering and design development, special measures for soil and water management necessary to prevent flooding, siltation and agricultural related pollutants, and agricultural pest control.

Rangeland Protection: Design and implement management activities that maintain or improve the ecological health of the rangeland. Management activities include: control of noxious weeds and insect pests, prevention of soil erosion, control of livestock trespass, modify stocking rates where improper grazing occurs, assist with pre-fire suppression, fire suppression and burned area rehabilitation projects, and monitor rangeland through utilization and trend studies.

Leasing and Permitting Services: Support lease and permit preparations, modifications, stipulations (protective covenants), and enforcement actions affecting farm and pasture leases, grazing permits, and farming operations. Evaluate compliance with lease and permit requirements, performance, and use. The staff monitors rangeland usage, changes in ranch operations or land ownership, and modifies leases and grazing permits to protect agriculture and rangeland resources and improve their utilization.

Contract Monitoring: Review existing tribal self-determination contracts and grant proposals requested under Public Law 93-638. Review includes making sure the contract includes all aspects of the BIA Agriculture and Range program and the specific performance requirements expected of the contractor. Contracting Officer’s Representative uses reports submitted by the contractor to evaluate contractor performance.

Agriculture Extension: This program keeps Tribes abreast of state-of-the-art agricultural techniques in agronomy, soil restoration, and crop rotation through lectures, field demonstrations, and on-site visits. Tribal governments determine annual performance goals and measures of each Agriculture Extension program as part of the local priority setting process involving all program areas. These funds are expended through existing tribal contracts and compacts. In addition, the Tribes have established assistance agreements with the land grant institutions for agricultural extension support.

Noxious Weed Eradication: The primary function of the Noxious Weed Eradication program is to provide resource protection on trust lands in compliance with the American Indian Agriculture Resource Management Act, the Federal Noxious Weed Act, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Noxious weeds degrade the land ecologically, and reduce the value of agricultural production from the land. Continued coordination and cooperation with private, state, and Federal landowners within the reservation boundaries and adjoining lands will eventually allow for the containment and control of weed populations. The Noxious Weed Eradication program also provides education, direction and technical guidance to individual Indians, non-Indian farmers and ranchers, Indian Tribes and Alaska natives involved in controlling noxious weeds.

The Bureau also cooperates in the Department’s Invasive Species Crosscut Initiative. The BIA takes part in three of the Area Invasive Plant Initiatives including: Rio Grande – tamarisk, Northern Great Plains – leafy spurge/yellow star thistle, and Florida – melaluca/tropical soda apple/Brazilian pepper. The BIA funds tribal projects in all three of these Crosscut Initiatives.

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Figure 1 - Purple loosestrife on the Missouri River on Santee Reservation, northeast Nebraska