DEQ looking to partner with Arizona Game and Fish Department


Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News


The Gila River Indian Community’s Department Environmental Quality is seeking a tribal resolution supporting the establishment of a partnership between DEQ and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The partnership would allow the entities to work towards restoration of the environment. 


The resolution said Russell Benford, Environmental Program Manager for DEQ, would facilitate an intergovernmental agreement between AZGFD and the Community to restore and propagate native plants. 


“There are two main types of work, that this partnership will allow,” said Benford. “One is removing exotic plants that create a fire hazard and don’t do much to accommodate wildlife. The other is replacing those plants with native vegetation that has greater ecological and cultural value.”  


“In 2015, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding, performed a restoration project in the Base-Meridian Wildlife Area,” said Benford. “The project removed a large quantity of salt cedar and other exotic vegetation that negatively impacted the area. Since that project’s completion, the salt cedar has regrown, and it now requires additional treatment.” 


“They [AZGFD] have requested our crew to take on the project and move it to the next level in clearing salt cedar and restoring the area to its original state,” said Benford. 


Although the project is several months away from starting, the goal is to help restore an area along the Gila River, near ISM Raceway in a place that is adjacent to Community land.  


The project, called “Go:k A’akimel ab’e Namks’ch” (Where the Rivers Meet), will require DEQ’s Fuels and Restoration Crew to remove salt cedar with chainsaws, chip and mulch removed vegetation, stack and burn excess wood, and apply herbicide to ensure that salt cedar does not resprout. 


Benford calls the work a “win-win” situation for the Community and AZGFD, because the State’s wildlife management department, in return for the assistance, will offer approximately 230 acres of farmland just over the hill from GRIC in two locations: Robbins Butte and Powers Butte Wildlife Areas, which are located 50 miles downstream of the Gila River. 


Just what will the acres of land be used for? 


According to the proposed resolution and intergovernmental agreement, land at these two wildlife areas could be used to grow native plants such as desert marigold, brittlebush and wolfberry. These two areas are old agriculture fields that AZGFD acquired to benefit wildlife. 


“The agreement is going to facilitate the establishment of a seed farm, where we will cultivate native plants on a large scale for restoration projects,” said Benford. If the opportunity presents itself, the plants grown and harvested from the two locations will be used to help with other restoration projects in the region.


“We want to develop a template for growing native plant species. We’d love to share any knowledge we gain with Community members who are interested in cultivating native plants as agricultural crops.” Currently, there is no large-scale business that specializes in native plant seed cultivation. Developing this knowledge would allow the Community to have a special role propagating native plants that are adapted to desert conditions. 


“For example, when the Arizona Department of Transportation builds roads, they need to put native plants on the shoulders of those roads. The Community could be a source for them to purchase seeds for those projects,” Benford said. 

He said there’s a huge market demand for native seeds and plants, and Community members could grow and sell them. Cultivating native plants on a commercial scale would not only benefit farmers; it would also benefit the natural environment because native plants use less water, require less tillage and provide excellent habitat for wildlife.


At the second monthly Community Council meeting on Jan. 16, the tribal resolution was accepted by Community Council. 

Below: Google Earth maps of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Base-Meridian, Robbins Butte and Powers Butte Wildlife Areas. The Robbins Butte and Powers Butte properties are about 20 miles downstream from GRIC on the Gila River.