Wampanoag Tribe would use grant to heal Menemsha Pond

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last week announced the award of an $181,590 Tribal Wildlife Grant to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to develop a cooperative management plan for Menemsha Pond.

The money is part of $7 million in Tribal Wildlife Grants that will go to 37 Native American Tribes in 16 states to fund a wide range of conservation projects, according to a FWS press release. The Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head were the only two tribes selected in the Northeast to receive grants funds to conduct fish and wildlife activities.

The Wampanoag Natural Resources Department prepared the grant application. Over the years, natural resources director Bret Sterns has racked up a long list of grants for the tribe, but he said this one is special.

“It was a competitive grant,” Mr. Stearns said. “I write a lot of grants, and we get a lot of grants in here, but this one is exciting. After 15 years of doing this, I don’t say that all that often. This was a departmental effort.”

Mr. Stearns said the goal is to look beyond the specific ecological factors that affect Menemsha Pond and find ways for all interested parties to work together in a systematic and cooperative way, identify priorities among the tribe, Chilmark, and Aquinnah, and then formalize how all the vested parties will address those priorities.

Mr. Stearns said there are many examples of the type of issues the grant is meant to address. For example, herring are critical to the health of many fisheries. The tribe manages the herring creek but has no authority to take measures that might protect herring from cormorants outside its boundaries.

He said an agreement might allow all parties to cooperate for the health of herring stocks. “The same example can be used with shellfish,” he said. “Everybody is running individual shellfish programs and there may be ways we can work together to create more product for less money and still maintain jurisdiction.”

Dredging in Menemsha Pond, whether to or not and where, is another issue ripe for action.

Mr. Stearns said one of the first steps would be the creation of a working committee that includes representatives of all the interested parties and stakeholders. He said grant money could be used for technical and professional assistance to help address issues of concern and create specific plans of action.

He said enhancing the bay scallop fishery would likely be the first pilot project. The first step he said would be to speak to the boards of selectmen in Chilmark and Aquinnah to explain the project, followed by meetings with town harbor and shellfish officials to begin to flesh out a working committee that can focus on what types of technical assistance will be needed.

According to the formal grant proposal, “The proposed project is to develop a Cooperative Management Plan for the Menemsha Pond complex that would not only ensure the proper management of the bay scallop resource in Menemsha Pond, but also create a framework for management of other important resources, such as American oysters, herring species, winter flounder, American eels, and any other resource found in the connected pond system. The management plan would also be used as a platform to resolve historically difficult issues between parties, such as reciprocity between Town and Tribe field staff, uniform regulations between towns, uniform oil-spill response, and creating a dredging plan for Menemsha Pond. The implemented plan will create a template for shared management that does not currently exist, and which will benefit the sustenance resources in the ponds to the benefit of both the Tribe and neighboring towns. This plan would be solidified in the form of an Agreement between the Tribe and Towns of Aquinnah and Chilmark.”

More than $3.6 million has gone to 11 different Native American Tribes in the Northeast through theTribal Wildlife Grants program since 2003, providing support for 23 conservation projects administered by participating federally recognized Tribes, according to FWS. The grants provide technical and financial assistance for the development and implementation of projects that benefit fish and wildlife resources and their habitat, including non-game species.

“The Service and Tribes have partnered together for many years towards shared species and habitat conservation goals,” Northeast Regional Director Marvin Moriarty said. “The Service is pleased again this year to provide funding support to Tribes for their significant landscape conservation work.”

The grants have enabled Tribes to develop increased management capacity, improve and enhance relationships with partners (including state agencies), address cultural and environmental priorities and heighten Tribal students’ interest in fisheries, wildlife and related fields of study, FWS said.

The Tribal Wildlife Grants are provided exclusively to federally recognized Indian tribal governments and are made possible under the Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2002 through the State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program.

For more information visitfws.gov/nativeamerican/grants.html or fws.gov.