29 October 2012

Lower Brule Tribe Proposes Unique Project

A delegation of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe received unanimous support for consideration of a unique plan for habitat restoration at Lake Sharpe.

A tribal delegation including Michael B. Jandreau, tribal chairman, Scott Jones, Joel Bich and Brian Molyneaux presented their plan and asked for support from the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, during their group's quarterly meeting being held at Omaha, from October 22-25th.

The tribe was asking for support from the group and financial assistance from the U.S. government to correct some of the impacts created when their homelands were destroyed by dam construction and inundation of the river by a reservoir, Jandreau said. The project "can work and become a real extension in an effort to try and heal those things created by mankind," and an "opportunity for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe to complete a project that will work for the benefit of everyone," interested in the Missouri river.

The "Little Bend" project would have several features:

1) an elongated island 200 feet wide, and 6200 feet to provide nesting habitat for the interior Least Tern and Piping Plover;
2) removal of vegetation from a former island — which is now a peninsula — and create a channel to separate it from the adjacent upland, resulting in a 12-acre island;
3) create a one-acre island;
4) create 60 acres of backwater habitat; and,
5) establish some upland habitat for flora and fauna, including the planting of some cottonwood trees.

The off-shore island habitat would not be inundated by any high-flow events, as the Lake Sharpe reservoir has a "stable water pool elevation," said Bich, during his portion of the presentation. The island would also have long-term permanence and require a lesser extent of maintenance, in comparison to mid-channel emergent sandbar habitat created below Gavins Point Dam, for example.

Additional items explained to the committee members and others present at the meeting on Wednesday afternoon, included:

  • how the habitat could contribute to the conservation of both bird species, if they were to use the new islands;
  • the projects could expand restoration efforts associated with the Missouri River to the northern, reservoir sections;
  • many other benefits could result, including stopping shoreline erosion, which is an ongoing problem along the reservoir shore, protect a cultural resources, create ancillary habitats for various flora and fauna; and
  • how the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe has "the desire, capability and commitment to successfully complete projects."
  • risks and uncertainties were also presented, including whether or not the two bird species would utilize the habitat, will the project further species' recovery, if there might be predation dangers at a permanent site and long-term management issues.

Scott Jones indicated there have been many social, cultural, economic and psychological impacts on tribal members due to dam construction and loss of the natural river. The Little Island project has an interdisciplinary approach with many obvious benefits, he indicated.

Committee members expressed several comments in response, and they were all supportive. One comment indicated that the tribal presentation was unique to the efforts associated with committee activities.

The project design was completed in 2008, with development assistance provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is ready to be constructed, once funding of approximately $4.5 to 5 million dollars is available. Representatives of the Corps, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also visited the project area, earlier in October.

The LBST asked that the MRRIC that this off-channel habitat project be considered as a high priority for Missouri River restoration projects and that the project be given priority consideration in a current reservoir study. No decision was made at the time on establishing the project as a high priority for the Missouri River Recovery Program.

The MRRIC members, through a unanimous consensus vote, agreed to have the Science and Adaptive Management work group, specifically the tern and plover focus group, consider the project further and then report back all members.

Additional potential projects have also been developed for future consideration on tribal lands at the lake, the reservoir behind Big Bend Dam, which was completed in 1966.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe has already carried out a project to protect their land and culture. An island was constructed that stopped erosion threatening a 1000-year-old earth mound site — designated as a national cultural site — and which was planted to cottonwood trees.

This project has provided multiple benefits to tribal members, said Jones, including scientific and educational values.

"Animals were waiting for this habitat to appear," said Brian Molyneaux, expressing how turtles were using the project site, the spring after its completion. "We need to enable habitat possibilities, and allow animals to exhibit behavior people cannot predict."

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe has an active conservation program, and elsewhere on their lands in central South Dakota, the tribe has reestablished the Black-footed Ferret, with young being raised at prairie-dog colonies of only about twenty acres in extent.