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Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation wants to get its ecological message out

A chinook salmon fish on the East Fork of the Owyhee River within the Duck Valley Reservation in June, 2016. Continuing a tradition begun in 2015, the Shoshone Paiute tribe and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game oversaw the transportation of salmon from Hells Canyon to Duck Valley. The projects returned fish to the area for the first time in nearly 90 years.
A chinook salmon fish on the East Fork of the Owyhee River within the Duck Valley Reservation in June, 2016. Continuing a tradition begun in 2015, the Shoshone Paiute tribe and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game oversaw the transportation of salmon from Hells Canyon to Duck Valley. The projects returned fish to the area for the first time in nearly 90 years. Jinwon Seo, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Four Indian tribes have reservations in the Upper Snake River Watershed within 250 miles of Boise. For eight years, the little-known Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation has represented them on fish, wildlife, land, air, water, cultural resources and rights reserved by treaties.

The foundation seeks to respond to the changing environment and increasing demands on the landscape, including dams and other developments that have compromised tribes’ traditional ways of life.

The tribes are:

▪  The Burns Paiute tribe, whose reservation is about 190 miles west of Boise in eastern Oregon.

▪ The Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe, whose reservation is about 190 miles southwest of Boise in Oregon and Nevada.

▪ The Shoshone-Bannock of the Fort Hall Reservation, about 230 miles east of Boise in southeastern Idaho.

▪ The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, about 150 miles south of Boise along the Idaho and Nevada border.

Executive Director Scott Hauser answered questions. Hauser worked for the U.S. Forest Service and an environmental consulting firm before joining the the foundation, initially as its environmental program director.

Q: Of what are you most proud as an organization?

A: We are in the final stages of completing a climate-change vulnerability assessment for the four tribes. It’s a large-scale project covering the whole Upper Snake River Watershed. A lot of individual tribes have done such assessments, but this is the first time this has been done on this scale within the Western United States. This is our first work in the climate arena.

We’ve looked at different climate-change scenarios. The take-away: By the 2050s, temperatures will increase 6 or more degrees in the Upper Snake River Watershed. By the 2080s, we’re looking at increases that will result in average annual temperatures above freezing, making the region a rain- rather than snow-dominate region.

We’ve put on workshops, venues for tribal leaders to express their climate-change concerns. One common concern: traditional food sources like choke-cherries and Chinook salmon. We’re expecting salmon and steelhead to be extremely vulnerable to climate change.

Our next step will be putting together an adaptation plan for the tribes.

Another project we’re working on is the the Columbia River Treaty, with the goal of getting an ecosystem-based function along with power production and flood control on the river. [Canada and the United States signed a treaty in 1964 to cooperate in developing and operating water resources in the river basin].

Q: Who supports you?

A: We’re a little different from many nonprofits. We have two primary sources of funding, the Bonneville Power Administration, for mitigating the effects of the Columbia River power system. The other is the Indian Environmental General Assistance Program through the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s money available to tribes or consortia of tribes to build capacity for the tribes, for example, hiring staffers, or paying for projects. We receive money from them each year. It pays the salary of our environmental program director.

Like other nonprofits, we also participated in Idaho Gives last year [an annual daylong, online giving event sponsored by the Idaho Nonprofit Center] and in Giving Tuesday [an annual online giving event the day after Cyber Monday]. We have also applied for grants from organizations like the Idaho Women’s Charitable Foundation to help pay for education and outreach for events like the Return of the Boise Valley People [a tribal event that takes place each year in Boise’s Quarry View Park].

We operate on a shoestring budget, but we did once receive an anonymous donation of $20,000. We used part of that to re-do our website and create some nice displays for events. But we still have $12,000 of that in the bank.

Most federal grants are very specific. It’s hard to find money for operations. For example, it would be great to get a grant to pay our rent for one year, or pay for health insurance for our staff for one year.

Q: Have you noticed certain trends in who supports your organization?

A: The funding is fairly solid from the federal government, but we have to apply for it every year. We submit work plans and budgets to the BPA and the EPA. It is relatively stable, but there are some sleepless nights. With the recent radical change in the government, there’s a sense of concern not just among tribes but among federal agencies and the people involved in climate-change work.

Q: When it comes to fundraising, what has been an effective tool? How have you sold your mission to the public?

A: We try to do the best we can to educate people, telling them who we are and reiterating that when the four tribes were pushed to reservations, the federal government promised them plentiful salmon and steelhead for the rest of their lives and future generations. That was before dams that blocked the access for fish. Now, three of the four tribes don’t have access to those traditional, cultural food sources. That has led to the well-known health issues on reservations, shortened life expectancy, diabetes, obesity.

How we try to sell our mission is to say that we understand that we’ll never bring back the Upper Snake watershed to its natural condition, but we are doing our best to restore it as close as possible and bring back the resources taken from tribes.

Q: What hasn't worked for fundraising, or has been a misstep?

A: It’s more a question of what we haven’t been able to do. We’re a staff of four. We’re spread thin working on a myriad of issues, from Hells Canyon Dam relicensing to water quality and other fish and wildlife issues. We’re not at the point where we can really take on fundraising. And it’s something we sorely need, along with increasing awareness of our existence.

I know there are a lot of people out there who understand the atrocities committed against native people and those with strong environmental support who would be donors. I would love to be able to find the money to bring on a part-time person to work on public relations and fundraising.

Q: What are the best ways you've found to build relationships with donors?

A: We do an incredible amount of traveling, trying to meet as many people as possible. In six weeks, I’ve given presentations in four states. In Portland, Oregon, to a group of federal and tribal representatives, to the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, to the EPA Region 9 Tribal Conference and the Northwest Climate Science Conference. But I am always thinking of ways to reach more general audiences.

Because we have such worries about what will happen with climate change under the new government, we know that climate change work will have to be at the state and local level. That increases the importance of our work and outreach. A vast majority of the public believes in climate change. If we can reach people, we believe they will want to hear what we do. And that could spur donors.

Q: Who is your competition when it comes to raising money?

A: I wouldn’t call it competition per se. A lot of tribes receive funding, as they should, from the feds. But it can be a competitive process. As one example, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had $6 million in grants available for climate-change studies. We got a grant but had to compete with more than 500 tribes and consortia who also applied.

Anna Webb: 208-377-6431, @IDS_AnnaWebb. This story appears in the December 21, 2016-January 17, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on nonprofits. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).

Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation

Established: 2008

Address: 413 W. Idaho St., Suite 101, Boise

208-331-7880

Annual budget: $300,000 (from the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). The foundation also received one-time grants from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs totaling $200,000 for a climate-change vulnerability assessment for 2016 and a climate-change adaptation plan for 2017.

Staff size: 4

Upper Snake River Watershed: It begins in Wyoming at the headwaters of the Snake River. It encompasses most of southern and central Idaho and portions of Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. Major tributaries include the Boise, Bruneau, Jarbridge, Malheur, Owyhee, Payette and Salmon rivers.

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