The Result Of… My Experience with Conservation Planning

From June 12 to 16, 2023, I alongside my coworkers, Leiloni Begaye and Wil Gover, ventured out to the southwest corner of the Navajo Nation for one of First Nations’ Conservation Planning Session. As part of our Stewarding Native Lands program, these sessions provide resources for local Native producers to understand and create conservation plans – plans that give footing when presenting conservation goals to entities like the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Although I had prepared for the preliminaries over the school year, it was a new experience for me. The lead program officer, Leiloni, has been through these sessions many times before, so she served as the session guide and my mentor. She would introduce me to the training consultants and keep me busy with everything.

Monday morning, faces came to names I had only seen on data sheets. Farmers and ranchers across the area filed in through the doors. In the back, I looked on and became a student with the farmers and ranchers. There was a great wealth of knowledge to tap from each presentation – everything short of the molecular structure and the origin of the universe was explained. So, most questions got answers.

What was more exciting was day two, when we drove out to survey a participant’s plot. I got lost looking for the site and it took premier sightseeing to find my way. When I did, Leiloni was already helping identify and explain the many plant types found on the ranch, going into detail about their uses or detriments and providing their names in Navajo. The trainers moved soil around as if they were playing in the dirt and then explained the soil composition (rich in iron), soil horizons (awfully shallow presence of bedrock), and the soil’s pH level (7). Everyone else helped to assess foliage, the prevalence of water, wildlife presence, infrastructure, production, and the rest. This day’s worth of information would be condensed into a stack of papers.

It was a hot field day. The hours in the heat wore us all down. Finding shade or a place to sit sparked small conversations with myself and others. For my youth, they asked where I was from and where I was going. For them their stories stacked on about their origins and lives. They spoke of how good it is to be learning from the training and how hopeful they are about the opportunities that lay ahead.

The goal of teaching how to make a conservation plan was reached on Friday. Here the session came together for everyone. Representatives from the local NRCS office drove out to share resources and made a good introduction to what the department could do for them. After they left, it was scramble to get everyone’s documents in place and filled. In the days before, we printed out hundreds of papers that now owned the spotlight. It took some work, but by the end of the day the farmers and ranchers were ready to begin presentations on their conservation plans. Plans were laid out by everyone about projects for efficient use of water, increasing production, defining land, and more. It felt like most had learned a lot that week. And there was available support after the session if they needed more help.

The session soon came to a close. Remarks, thanks, and goodbyes were shared as we gathered our things. It was a great opportunity to meet the participants, learn alongside them, and think of questions I hadn’t thought before. I had more to think about when I arrived home on Sunday. I had plenty of questions left to ask and ideas to test to the precedent of the past and the uncertainty of the future. What is left to me now is to continue listening: Listen and hopefully help think of something that does some good. I greatly appreciate the opportunity that First Nations has provided me. It was wonderful to interact with Native community members I would have never met with before. Participating in the trainings is helping me reconnect with Native people after being away for so long. With these chances to learn, I hope in the future I may be able to bring something of mine to the table.

I just have to keep on doing what I can.

Matthew Concho
First Nations Intern