Evers seeks funds for Oneida Nation’s environmental project in budget | Green Bay Press-Gazette
ONEIDA – Part of Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget includes $875,000 to help fund the Oneida Nation’s environmental restoration project on the reservation.
Over the past year, the tribe has restored about 3,000 acres of wetlands, grasslands, prairies and forests on the reservation.
The governor’s budget includes an annual investment of $175,000 for five years for continuing the Oneida Nation’s habitat restoration work and bird monitoring project just west of Green Bay.
“We know that nature can provide for itself if allowed to. A years-long restoration of Oneida’s lands in Northeastern Wisconsin has led to improvements in water quality and the return of wildlife,” said Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Evers for supporting our work to restore and protect Wisconsin’s natural spaces.”
The Oneida Nation also started a bird monitoring project on its restoration sites in coordination with the Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society and UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin Center for Biodiversity to research how birds are responding to the tribe’s conservation efforts.
“We’ve witnessed firsthand as state-threatened bird species, like the Henslow’s sparrow, have returned to restored Oneida Nation lands, an incredible testament to the importance of this restoration work,” said Erin Giese, president of the Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society, in a statement.
She said the tribe’s 300-acre restored Trout Creek grassland includes native plants that are needed by grassland birds, which are declining rapidly in North America.
“This funding will help protect the hundreds of bird species that rely on Wisconsin’s habitats to thrive, while offering countless benefits to other wildlife, Oneida citizens, ecological health and neighboring communities,” Giese said.
Protecting and restoring the natural environment is a key initiative for the Oneida Nation and its culture.
“This investment will allow us to continue our collaborative work with partners, like Audubon Great Lakes, to heal the land and create a healthier natural environment,” Hill said.
Evers’ budget proposal also includes a $200,000 investment in restoring and protecting natural wild rice areas in Wisconsin.
Experts say wild rice is an essential food source for many of the migratory birds in the area, including many species of ducks, pheasants, owls, cranes, geese and songbirds.
The plants also help to improve the environment.
“Emergent plants, including wild rice, help promote water quality through the filtering and storage of nutrients and slow down wave action in the coastal wetlands of Green Bay,” said Dr. Amy Carrozzino-Lyon, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay restoration project manager in the natural and applied sciences department. “A diversity of native wetland plants helps the community function at its best.”
Wild rice was once abundant in the region, but reportedly disappeared by the mid-1900s, she said.
“To my knowledge, the reason why wild rice was lost is unknown, although there are factors that could be at play,” Carrozzino-Lyon said. “Wild rice is known to be very sensitive to water quality issues, so the loss of rice may be an indicator of past environmental degradation of lower Green Bay and its tributaries. Impacts of climate change, development of shorelines and overall coastal wetland loss may also present challenges for rice.”
Carrozzino-Lyon said wild rice also is very important culturally, especially for the local Menominee and Ojibwe.
Wild rice, or manoomin in Ojibwe, is central to Ojibwe identity and is part of the culture’s migration story.
“Vulnerable birds across Wisconsin depend on rich and abundant wetlands, many of which support the growth of wild rice,” said Brian Vigue, policy director of freshwater for Audubon Great Lakes, in a statement. “These investments in Oneida’s wetland restoration, and in the conservation of wild rice will ensure that Wisconsin is a place where birds and other wildlife can thrive for generations to come.”