Earth Day highlights Hill AFB commitment to tribal resources

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — April 22 marks another year of Air Force installations around the world recognizing Earth Day to show support for environmental protection. The Air Force picks a theme each year for Earth Day to inspire awareness of the importance of managing energy and other resources that impact our mission today and will into the future. Part of our mandate is to also preserve and protect the past.

Currently, the Hill AFB Cultural Resource Program manages 663 prehistoric sites, 49 historic sites, and two multicomponent sites. These include prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, historic structures, cultural items, artifact collections, sacred sites and traditional cultural properties, and tribal subsistence gathering areas. There are also 130 buildings currently determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places dating from pre-World War II through the Cold War era, as well as six historic districts and one cultural landscape.

These numbers increase each year as additional acreage is surveyed for archaeological resources and new structures reach the age for assessment on the base, the Utah Test and Training Range and on the numerous geographically separated units Hill AFB manages. There are also 21 tribes who claim cultural affiliation to lands managed by Hill AFB. These tribes’ hail from eight Western states from the Canadian to the Mexican borders.

Due to the sensitivity of many of the sites and federal regulation requirements, the Air Force is required to consult on a government-to-government level with these tribes about all upcoming projects on Hill AFB, the UTTR and other sites that have the potential to affect tribal interests. Hill AFB joins annually with other Utah military entities to hold a meeting with these 21 tribes. This meeting allows tribal leadership to meet face-to-face with military leadership in Utah to discuss upcoming projects on military lands and to address any tribal concerns.

One such concern that the tribes express, and that has been noted throughout Utah, is the diminishing access to native habitats for tribal subsistence. This is largely due to the increase in invasive plant and animal species. Our Hill AFB Natural Resource Program has worked many years to actively tackle this problem, which also causes issues such as an increased fire risk and reduced visibility of potential unexploded ordnance on the UTTR, and decreased native plant and animal species.

Recently, the Hill AFB Natural Resources Program coordinated with other Hill AFB environmental programs, including cultural resources, to establish a Vegetation Management Environmental Assessment for the UTTR. A primary goal of this project is to increase native habitat restoration programs by targeting invasive plant species, such as cheatgrass and other invasive weeds. An added benefit to this program is the restoration of not only native plant habitats but also native animal species, both of which local tribes still use in their daily lives, for special ceremonies and in traditional practices.

Hill AFB continues to lead the way in assuring the protection of sites deemed significant by local tribes, as well as continuing to build relationships with those tribes we interact with frequently. We have the opportunity on June 9 to see and participate in tribal and other conservation activities at Pond 3 (by the base’s walking trail) when we host “Kickin’ It for Conservation.” This energy and environmental fair, which will run 3-7 p.m., is open to all base residents and employees and will include activities such as making traditional American Indian split twig figures, catch-and release fishing, and constructing birdhouses. I encourage everyone to take time outdoors and stop by.

Earth Day serves as that yearly reminder to take a moment and learn a bit about the cultural and other resources around us. Our future mission success lies in knowing our resources, using them wisely and protecting them.

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