LAS VEGAS – The EM program at the Nevada Field Office (NFO) has enlisted the help of the people who know the Mojave Desert the best to revegetate its complex terrain.
NFO asked tribal representatives from the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations (CGTO) to develop recommendations on how to revegetate 92 acres of land at the Nevada National Security Site Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Complex. Area 5 is dedicated to the permanent disposal of low-level and mixed low-level waste generated primarily by DOE environmental cleanup activities.
NFO attempted to revegetate portions of the acreage three times between 2011 and 2015. All attempts failed despite irrigation, varying seeding methods, and use of mulch. No issues were found with seed quality when tested, and there are no contaminants present in the topsoil at Area 5.
The bare landscape with a few weeds growing under the irrigation equipment is in stark contrast to the nearby natural vegetation, with its variety of mature shrubs and desert grasses. After the failed seeding attempts, those working on the project considered transplanting the healthy flora.
Instead, NFO hopes to incorporate the knowledge and wisdom gained from traditions and practical skills passed down among tribal members for thousands of years.
The six chosen CGTO members represent three broad tribal ethnic groups: Southern Paiute, Western Shoshone, and Owens Valley Paiute. Two members from each group will work with CGTO spokesperson Richard Arnold and ethnoecologist Dr. Jeremy Spoon of Portland State University Department of Anthropology.
Arnold agrees the group is right for the job.
“The land is out of balance… and the only way that can be corrected is with tribal intervention,” he said. “That’s why [the CGTO] is involved. We have a cultural responsibility and serve as the voice of the land.”
The CGTO representatives met with NFO staff earlier this year to discuss the project in the first of three planned meetings on the topic. NFO presented information on past revegetation attempts and details of the disposal cells construction and conditions. Questions, discussions, and preliminary ideas from the tribal group followed.
The next meeting, which will include a visit to the NNSS, is scheduled for June. Visiting the site will be integral to the CGTO’s recommendations, Arnold says.
“It’s important for tribal people to see, feel, communicate, and interact with the land,” he said.
The CGTO representatives will consider the information presented in the first meeting, conduct research, and review existing literature on traditional ecological knowledge relevant to the project area.
Because of the importance of the revegetation project and involvement of the tribes, NFO is providing additional funding for this activity. NFO Assistant Manager Scott Wade said the funding demonstrates a commitment to provide for greater involvement from the tribal groups.
Arnold believes this commitment goes both ways, stating that the tribal groups and NFO can’t be divided on issues concerning the land.
“We need to be all on the same page, singing the same song,” Arnold says. “Only then will the land hear our message and begin to heal.”