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Tribal youth could be the future of the Forest Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Most tribal youth grow up among elders and community members who teach them directly and or indirectly traditional ecological knowledge that supports land management. Those practices of their ancestors are a great resource even today. It was a natural connection when Under Secretary James W. Hubbard, USDA Natural Resources and Environment, talked with 15 National Future Farmers of America tribal youth about land stewardship.

Hubbard, who has oversight of the Forest Service, talked to the young people during their visit to Washington, D.C., on July 25, 2019. He began by telling them that their ancestors were the first stewards of the lands now managed by the Forest Service. Their ancestors demonstrated how to manage lands and we can learn from that management style.

“Through collaboration and shared stewardship, I am asking the Forest Service to work with Tribes to help us better manage the 193 million acres of Forest Service forests and grasslands,” he said.

Hubbard told the tribal youth that the Forest Service is developing a concept of shared stewardship because the agency understands that we may not always have the right management practices. In order to best serve all our communities, we must always learn from others, including Tribes.

Hubbard talked about blending traditional ecological knowledge with western science. There are Forest Service jobs that could benefit from having tribal perspectives, and he encouraged the students to consider careers in natural resources and forestry.

After the Under Secretary finished speaking, the students were offered time to ask questions. Lumbee tribal member Julius Locklear from the Lumberton, North Carolina, FFA Chapter asked about youth opportunities within the Forest Service. Hubbard cited the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Resource Assistants programs.

Navajo Nation tribal member Stephanie Guajardo from the Monument Valley, Arizona, FFA Chapter asked if FFA was around when he was growing up and did he participate. With a wide grin, the Under Secretary answered that he wasn’t that old and yes, FAA was in Kansas where he grew up. He did not join a FAA chapter.

Other questions ranged from the structure of the department to the past challenges the Forest Service might have had with Tribes.

Other USDA presenters spoke once the Under Secretary finished his discussion. But before he left, he made sure they knew that Smokey Bear was celebrating his 75th birthday and passed out items bearing the iconic bear’s image, including pop sockets and stickers.

Group photo in classroom
Under Secretary James W. Hubbard, USDA Natural Resources and Environment addressing the FFA tribal youth group. Photo courtesy of the Native American Agriculture Fund.
Group photo: Jim Hubbard
USDA Undersecretary answering FFA member questions. Photo courtesy of the Native American Agriculture Fund.