$1M Recycling Grant is the Latest Infrastructure Investment Success Story for CSKT

This year, the Salish and Kootenai have been awarded numerous grants totaling millions of dollars for restoration and conservation initiatives across the Flathead Indian Reservation

By Tristan Scott
A sign near the sky bridge in Pablo on Sept 12, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In a rural reservation community where residents occasionally still use burn barrels and bury waste, tribal leaders with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have been at a loss for how to expand their recycling program while promoting better education and outreach surrounding garbage disposal.

Last week, Rich Janssen, director of the CSKT’s Natural Resources Department, got his answer when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced nine tribal governments to receive Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) and Recycling Education and Outreach (REO) grants totaling $9.2 million. The CSKT’s share includes $1,023,748 to expand its existing recycling program, establish five new recycling collection facilities, purchase equipment, research end-markets for recyclables, and identify community partnerships for previously unrecycled materials.

According to Janssen, the SWIFR grant is a game-changer for recycling on the reservation.

“We sought this out and we really worked hard to get it,” Janssen said in an interview. “The Tribes are always looking for ways to reduce our footprint on the Earth. Unfortunately, we are a nation that produces a lot of waste and it has to go somewhere. So, we are looking for ways to reduce our waste stream by identifying where we can market these recyclables while also expanding our recycling footprint throughout the reservation and making that sustainable.”

The EPA has a trust responsibility to federally recognized tribes, and administrators say the latest round of grants, which includes tribal nations in Montana and North Dakota, are meant to benefit underserved and overburdened communities.

Rich Janssen, Department Head of Natural Resources for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“These activities aim to improve recycled commodity markets, increase collection and reduce contamination,” according to a press release from the EPA.

“EPA’s Tribal and community partners have developed comprehensive plans to expand and improve waste management services for their residents and businesses,” EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker said in a prepared statement in the release. “From enhanced recycling and market development to new food waste recovery and composting programs, these investments will make visible differences in communities in Colorado, North Dakota, Montana and Utah.” 

Federal officials said increasing recycling is an important way to reduce pollution because natural resource extraction and processing make up half of all global greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. Recycling reduces the need to extract resources such as timber, water and minerals for new products.

For Janssen, the grant provides an overdue opportunity to expand the Tribes’ recycling program and establish new collection facilities across the reservation’s rural communities, including in Hot Springs, St. Ignatius, Elmo, Arlee, Pablo, and Ronan. His Natural Resources Department coordinates the CSKT’s existing recycling program through Lake County, using its transfer station in Pablo to deposit recyclables. CSKT also picks up recyclable items and office paper from local schools.

Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, speaks at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo May 21, 2022. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

Still, the EPA grant will go a long way toward building out the Tribes’ recycling infrastructure and educating tribal members about the benefits of recycling.

“We can purchase bigger equipment and larger collection infrastructure items — tangible items that will make it more cost efficient,” Janssen said, “as well as reducing community blight and potential health and environmental contamination associated with illegal dumping on tribal land.”

With more outreach and education, coupled with the added facilities, Janssen said he’s optimistic the community will respond.

“Make it simple for people and they will do it,” he said. “We have always dealt with illegal dumping and that comes from tribal and non-tribal people. Refrigerators and other large appliances, which we call white goods, or old furniture and other garbage that people don’t want to pay to have hauled away, it just gets dumped on our land and we have to deal with it.”

The recycling grant is the latest example in a succession of grant awards totaling millions of dollars for CSKT that focus on efforts for restoration, conservation and preservation of homelands across the Flathead Indian Reservation.

“These grants and partnerships help us strengthen efforts and we are pleased to have the support and increased resources that help us maintain what we value for our future generations,” said CSKT Chairman Tom McDonald.

Flags fly over the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

$3.5 million — America the Beautiful Challenge (ATBC)

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) last week announced $141.3 million in total grant allocations through the America the Beautiful Challenge (ATBC). The CSKT, along with partners in the Crown of the Continent, submitted and were selected for a project titled Bio-Cultural Restoration within the Crown of the Continent. The $3.5 million dollar award will be used to develop Landscape Conservation Design collaborative strategies for 16 landscape features and invasive plant risk assessments; to restore whitebark pine; and to engage with the community to develop and monitor collaborative actions. Projects will include funding for forage management on the Tribe’s bison range; reconnecting resources and cultural practices; recovering functioning systems that support First Foods and ceremonial species; improving ecological connectivity; and growing a trained conservation workforce.  

The ATBC is a partnership between the Department of the Interior (through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, Native Americans in Philanthropy and NFWF. The competitive grant awards were made possible with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, other federal conservation programs and private sources.

In a secondary ATBC award, CSKT in partnership with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, received additional funding for a predator control initiative. 

$1.6 million — Columbia River Basin Restoration Funding Assistance Program

The CSKT Natural Resources Department’s Division of Environmental Protection was also recently awarded $1.6 million in an EPA-funded Columbia River Basin Restoration Funding Assistance Program to work with local partners for the investigation and risk assessment of residential septic systems distribution on the Flathead Indian Reservation. 

$904,300 — Environmental Protection Agency for Swimmer’s Itch Reduction

Through an EPA Environmental Justice Program of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, the Tribes will receive approximately $904,300 to support health projects to reduce the incidence of cercarial dermatitis (swimmer’s itch) in vulnerable populations around Flathead Lake and other waterbodies on the reservation. The project will develop local partnerships; install rinse stations and outdoor message boards at five public-use beaches; deliver public education and outreach about the parasite and how best to avoid impacts; and install community-designed artworks at the rinse stations. 

$143,000 — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Bison Herbivory and Interactions

The CSKT Natural Resource Department’s Wildlife Management Program was awarded $143,000 at the end of October as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant for a project entitled: Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Investigating Patterns of Bison Herbivory and Interactions. The project will investigate bison movements around the bison range and investigate plants they eat and forage condition.  

$30.5 million — Federal Highway Administration to Update and Rehabilitate U.S. Highway 93

Last summer, the CSKT NRD Roads Program was awarded $30,567,037 to update and rehabilitate U.S. Highway 93 from Dublin Gulch Road to Gunlock Road, as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s National Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program. 

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