The beautiful, 109-page Akwesasne Community Forest Management Plan was written and designed by Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Forestry Conservation Technician Aaron Barrigar.

Through EPF grants, the community of Akwesasne and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Forestry Resources Department performed a tree inventory and created the 2018 Akwesasne Community Forest Management Plan. The Plan presents the tree inventory data and an i-Tree Eco analysis of that data, and it provides direction for the stewards of the community forest in the southern portion of Akwesasne, where the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe lives. Southern Akwesasne covers approximately 10,000 acres, with about 3,000 acres in the urban interface.

Les Benedict is Assistant Director of the Environment Division of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and is the point person for the grants with NYSDEC. He spoke with us about aspects of the grant application and implementation processes and offers some suggestions for future applicants.

Benedict and his colleagues were able to leverage the thoroughness of the tree inventory and the community forest management plan to secure funding from the U.S. Forest Service to plant 1200 trees in the Southern Akwesasne urban interface. This include 5-600 trees in Generations Park, the community hub along Margaret Terrance Memorial Way that contains the main administration building; the wellness, veteran, and senior centers; the lacrosse box and athletic fields and playground; and the police department.

Aerial view of Generations Park complex from the Akwesasne Community Forest Plan.

“Because there’s so much activity throughout the Park, coordinating tree planting logistics with folks in charge of the recreational Park has been key,” Benedict says. “And now that so many trees have been planted, the community members are excited about them. We’ve lost a fair number of trees to emerald ash borer, so it’s encouraging to have new trees, in a variety of species, going in.” Fortunately for the community, deer pressure is not currently an issue for Generations Park.

“The spring planting took several weeks and presented a learning curve for us,” Benedict says. Several of his colleagues went to the ReLeaf tree planting workshop in Utica on May 3, and then returned to Akwesasne to immediately apply that knowledge to their ongoing spring planting. “We’re using primarily bare root trees [delivered from Schichtel’s Nursery], and it’s been a revelation to see how much easier bare root is than balled-and-burlapped,” Benedict says. “Also, we had the misconception that 1¼ caliper trees would be short, but these bare root trees are 7 to 8 feet tall.” Benedict says that the staff involved in planting feel more confident when looking ahead to the fall planting season.

The 2010 tree inventory lead to an i-Tree Eco analysis that quantified the economic value of Southern Akwesasne’s urban forest.

What were the strengths of the Akwesasne grant application? “We’re a unique applicant in that we’re not a city, not a village—however, the distribution of our non-commercial areas really fits the description of a community forest,” Benedict says. “Also, once we had the tree inventory done, our application to do a community forest plan had momentum. I also think that integrating native cultural values into the plan—for example, our desire to select trees species, such as white pine and slippery elm, which have cultural value and significance to the community—helped our application stand out.”

What should new applicants consider? “I think first and foremost, keeping community involvement high will always be a challenge, Benedict says. “I think that goes with any type of community and volunteer activity, not just ours, so you’ll want concrete and realistic plans for how you will do that. Also, think in advance about how you’re going to keep the community informed. Initially we used our tribal website to get out the word about community forest events, but we learned that social media was a better channel for communication. We started using Facebook events, but now the younger generation are telling us we need to use Snapchat! So we’ve had to keep up with changes in social media and technology generally.”

“Know that you have to patient, adaptable, and flexible as you implement the grant-funded project,” Benedict says. “Ours stretched out longer than we anticipated, but we kept the DEC folks informed of our status and are really proud of the Plan that resulted; we got good feedback from DEC for our efforts. Lastly, when you’re successful at securing the grant, be prepared to document everything—have those systems already in place so that you get reimbursed in a timely way.”