Current Projects

Community Forest & Open Space Conservation

With funding from the USDA Forest Service and matching support from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, First Nations’ Community Forest Program Tribal Outreach project provides support and resources to tribal entities in the Northern Great Plains and Southwest regions that are seeking to acquire or establish community forests.

Through this project, First Nations is hosting informational webinars and developing resources to help tribal entities interested in applying for funding through the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program (CFP).

Through this program, the USDA Forest Service will fund up to 50% of allowable project costs (including the reviewed and approved yellow book appraised land value) for tribes. 50% of project costs must be covered by nonfederal matching funding.

Why apply?

Through forest acquisition, Native communities can:

  • Increase land base for cultural purposes
  • Protect sensitive cultural sites and areas through public exclusion zones
  • Increase access for harvesting traditional foods, which strengthens tribal food sovereignty
  • Generate products from harvestable resources, such as art and value-added foods
  • Provide educational opportunities and demonstrations for youth
  • Improve economy from tourism, including agritourism, cultural tours, educational offerings, and public lodging areas
  • Create outdoor recreation

Applicant eligibility

The CFP funding opportunity is open to federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaska Native corporations, qualified nonprofit organizations focused on conservation, and local governments.  The proposed land must be:

  • Forest land – This land must be at least 5 acres, suitable for sustaining natural vegetation, and at least 75% forested (defined by presence of trees and absence of non-forest uses)
  • Private forest land – This includes land that is threatened by conversion to non-forest uses, is not held in trust by the U.S., and can provide community benefits and public access
  • Full fee purchase land (also known as fee simple or fee acquisition land) – This is land that the purchaser must acquire all rights, title and interest to from a seller or owner

Get technical assistance from First Nations

To provide support in applying for this program during the 2021/2022 funding year, First Nations is offering technical assistance to tribes and Native-led conservation organizations. This technical assistance may include application guidance and review and help in identifying matching funding. Interested groups are encouraged to connect with First Nations and explore this important opportunity to increase their tribal assets.

Email Mary Adelzadeh, Program Director, at, for more information.

  • Learn more about the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.
  • Stay informed about resources developed through this project — Join our mailing list by entering your name and email below.
  • Scroll down for information on the Community Forest Program Webinar Series.

Capacity Support Grants

Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations/Villages, tribal organizations, and Native-led nonprofit organizations interested in applying for the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program or Landscape Scale Restoration Program grant opportunities can apply for up to $5,000 in capacity support funding from First Nations. These grants can be used to cover the cost of staff time or consultants (such as grant writers) to develop a proposal for these opportunities.

Apply here!


This webinar series is designed to help tribal entities interested in applying for funding through the USDA Forest Service’s annual Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program (Community Forest Program) grant opportunity.

Webinar descriptions are detailed below, and registration information and presentation materials are here.

Webinar 1: Community Forest Program Opportunities for Tribes and Native-led Conservation Organizations

Tribes and Native-led 501(c)3 conservation organizations are eligible to apply for funding through the USDA to establish a community forest. The funding can cover up to 50% of costs to purchase forested lands in fee simple acquisitions for community benefit. In this one-hour webinar and Q&A session, participants learn how the USDA Community Forest Program works and how to write and submit an application. Topics include:

  • Program background and purpose
  • Eligibility
  • Application process
  • Example projects
  • Technical assistance opportunities

Webinar 2: Returning Forests to Tribal Stewardship

In this webinar, representatives of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians discuss their efforts to reacquire ancestral lands to protect tribal values and cultural resources, promote forest resilience, and provide opportunities for public education and recreation. Speakers share how they leveraged resources and partnerships to advance the following goals:

  • Restore healthy forests that are more resilient to disturbances and climate changes
  • Increase access to culturally important plants used for basketry, medicine, and food
  • Create opportunities to educate the public about tribal stewardship and traditional knowledge and uses
  • Ensure protection of traditional cultural properties and practices
  • Explore opportunities to generate revenue to support management through sustainable forest harvest and recreational uses

The webinar concludes with an introduction to the US Forest Service Community Forest Program to highlight one of the funding resources leveraged for the tribal projects.

Speakers include

Mike LaVoie, Natural Resources Manager, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Tommy Cabe, Forest Resource Specialist, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Mike Lithgow, Information and Outreach Coordinator, Kalispel Tribe of Indians
Mary Adelzadeh, Consultant, First Nations Development Institute
Candice Polisky, Community Forest Program Coordinator, Western States USDA Forest Service
Jill Gottesman, Regional Conservation Specialist, The Wilderness Society


Webinar 3: Leveraging Partnerships to Support Tribal Land Acquisition and Restoration

Thursday, November 4, 12 pm Mountain. Register here.

Moving beyond land acknowledgements to support tribal acquisitions of traditional homelands is needed. Transferring lands to tribes not only supports community well-being, but also helps protect ecological and cultural resources from development. Partnerships between tribes (including tribes that benefited from funding through the US Forest Service’s Community Forest Program), nonprofits and foundations have been integral to the success of many tribal land acquisition projects in the past. Partnerships can provide a range of opportunities for funding, land donations, or technical assistance such as planning, resources, and valuable connections.

Join us for a panel discussion with representatives from Indian Land Capital Company, The Trust for Public Land and American Forests who will share examples of partnerships that support tribal land acquisition, and learn how leveraging these partnerships can also help tribes be competitive applicants for the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.

Webinar Speakers

Mary Adelzadeh, First Nations Consultant (Moderator)

Mary Adelzadeh has over 20 years of experience working with tribal and federal governments and non-governmental organizations in project management, grant-writing, land and natural resource planning and protection, and facilitating collaboration. She currently serves as a consultant to Native-led organizations and initiatives, which includes being a co-lead for the Intertribal Indigenous Stewardship Project focused on creating and strengthening Indigenous networks, strategies, models, and investment opportunities for Indigenous-led stewardship in California. Mary previously served as a senior program officer at First Nations and as a project advisor to the Maidu Summit Consortium and Conservancy, where she supported efforts to restore Maidu Traditional Ecological Knowledge and establish a Maidu Cultural Park in California. Previously, she worked to protect tribal natural and cultural resources as the environmental director of the North Fork Mono Rancheria, a tribe in the Southern Sierra Nevada, and as a liaison between the Bureau of Land Management Lake Havasu Field Office and nine tribes in western Arizona.

Mary serves as an advisory board member to the UC Santa Cruz Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. Mary also recently served on the State of California’s topical advisory panel Protecting Biodiversity and Advancing 30×30. Mary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology and Management from the University of California, Davis. Mary earned a Master of Science degree in Resource Policy and Behavior with a concentration in Conservation Biology from the University of Michigan.

Rjay Brunkow, CEO, Indian Land Capital Company

Rjay Brunkow, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, joined ILCC in September 2015 and brings a wealth of experience in Indian country. Rjay has previously served as an Investment Banker for Wells Fargo with a focus on government infrastructure in Indian Country. He has served as Solicitor General for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and Chief Legal Counsel for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. He also has an extensive background in gaming and non‐gaming economic development projects within Indian Country. Rjay earned his Bachelor of Science degree (with Honor) in Business Economics from South Dakota State University and his Juris Doctorate (Cum Laude) from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Betsy Cook, Maine State Program Director, The Trust For Public Land

Betsy joined The Trust for Public Land in 2017 and during her time has worked with communities across the state to protect over 25,000 acres of new public lands, parks, and community forests. Previously, Betsy worked for the New England Forestry Foundation, and Triangle Land Conservancy and Duke Forest, both of Durham, North Carolina. Betsy holds a B.A. from Cornell University and Master of Environmental Management and Master of Forestry from Duke University, where she completed her thesis on community forests. She lives in Portland and enjoys cross-country, hiking, and paddling with her energetic dog Banjo.

Kristin Kovalik, Oregon State Program Director, The Trust for Public Land

Kristin has worked at The Trust for Public Land for over 20 years. During this time she has worked with communities in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho completing forest and farmland conservation projects, working on conservation finance measures and most recently assisting with a green schoolyard project. Previously she spent time living in Belize working for the Turneffe Atoll Trust. Kristin holds a B.S. from Pennsylvania State University, a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from University of Oregon and Certificate in Sustainable Management from Duke University. She lives in central Oregon and enjoys being in nature fly fishing, hiking, and gardening.

Austin Rempel, Senior Manager of Forest Restoration, American Forests

Austin manages our landscape-scale restoration initiatives under the American ReLeaf Program. Before joining American Forests, Austin worked on ecosystem service valuation projects as an economic consultant, planted trees along streams in Oregon, studied forest regeneration after wildfire, and herded prairie dogs along Colorado’s Front Range. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Austin is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Yale School of Forestry.

Brian Rueger, Forest Manager, Tule River Indian Tribe of California

Brian has advised the Tule River Tribe on forestry issues since 1985 and is a well-known expert on managing giant sequoia groves.

Access registration information, recordings and presentations here.