In 2021, WCN launched the California Wildlife Program, which represented our first major foray into wildlife conservation in North America. Doing so prompted us to think more deeply about other ways we could support wildlife in the US while holding true to our belief in the power of local leadership in conservation. Thus the idea was born to expand eligibility for our long-running Scholarship Program to candidates who are members of Indigenous tribes within the US. We were fortunate to secure funding from a foundation partner to support this expansion, and we are thrilled to announce our first cohort of US-based Indigenous scholars.
As with our existing Scholarship Program, which began in 2006, the Indigenous Scholarship opportunity aims to fund graduate education and applied training programs for candidates dedicated to pursuing a career in wildlife conservation. Eligible candidates are members of US-based Indigenous tribes and pursuing (or intending to pursue) a program at a US-based institution. Our vision is that recipients of our Indigenous Scholarship will become leaders in conservation, with the knowledge and skills needed to steward their ancestral lands and protect the wildlife that also call those lands home.
Please join us in welcoming these scholars to WCN and thanking them for their commitment to protecting wildlife on Indigenous lands.
Stephanie Barron (Chiricahua Apache, Xicana, German): Stephanie is pursuing a master’s in environmental science at the University of Montana. Her master’s project focuses on the development of carnivore coexistence education materials for the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe of Northwest Montana. As grizzly bears begin to occupy more of their historic habitat and as the population continues to grow, incidences of conflict have continued to rise. Stephanie will be working with Tribal Wildlife Biologists, cultural preservationists, and Non-lethal Conflict Prevention Specialists from USDA to develop a culturally relevant and decolonial curriculum on carnivore coexistence. This curriculum will help bridge the gap between the next generation of livestock owners in Northwestern Montana and the conservation goals of many throughout the state. The overall goal of the curriculum is to teach youth about why coexistence with carnivores is important and provide them with the resources and tools needed to succeed in their livestock husbandry endeavors. By preventing conflict in this way, Stephanie aims to positively influence the future perceptions youth have about grizzly bears and other large carnivores.
Daniel Bird (Santo Domingo Pueblo): Daniel is pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Montana. His dissertation is focused on identifying migration routes, stopover sites, habitat use, and potential barriers to elk movement on the Blackfeet reservation and the surrounding landscape in Montana. In partnership with the Blackfeet Fish & Wildlife Department and others, Daniel has begun to: 1) capture and GPS radio-collar approximately 100 adult female elk; 2) monitor elk movements for up to 2.5 years to identify migration corridors between Glacier National Park, Lewis & Clark National Forest, and the Blackfeet reservation; 3) identify stopover sites, delineate winter and summer ranges, and create resource selection function models to assess how elk utilize the landscape. His long-term goals are to increase Native American representation in STEM fields at the university, tribal, state, and federal levels, including the field of wildlife biology, and to become a wildlife biologist for his and other tribal communities so that they can sustainably manage natural resources and maintain unique cultures, languages, and Indigenous ways of living.
Aaron Cajero (Pueblo of Jemez): Aaron will pursue a master’s degree at Oklahoma State University and intends to focus his thesis on the evaluation of cougar predation and bear kleptoparasitism (the stealing of food from other animals) in Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico. His current role as a forestry supervisor for his tribe, the Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico, helped shape his understanding of the work necessary to ensure that the natural resources the Pueblo people depend on will be available for future generations, while at the same time meeting the needs of wildlife who also call the land home. After completing his degree, Aaron aims to act as a resource for his and other tribal communities throughout the country who may not have access to the expertise needed for natural resource management projects.
Brook Thompson (Yurok & Karuk): Brook is pursuing a Ph.D. From the University of Santa Cruz, investigating how Traditional Indigenous Knowledge (TEK) can be meaningfully integrated into California water policy through interviewing water agencies and California tribes. Her research will look at the questions of how California water agencies can better utilize TEK, how water agencies are currently interacting with tribes around water policy, and how agencies can interact with tribes around TEK while retaining Indigenous data sovereignty. Her goal is that this research will be used to reform policy in California and to create scalable changes for other states. She has already been successful in advocating for the inclusion of TEK into California environmental policy through her work on salmon conservation through the California Fish and Game Commission, advocating, along with fellow tribal members, that fall, and spring salmon should be considered separate species based on her tribe’s long-standing knowledge of their taste and behavior. Brook’s dissertation will create mechanisms to identify policy pathways that integrate TEK as an official source of knowledge in making more informed conservation decisions.
WCN is proud of this first group of Indigenous Scholars and excited to see all that they achieve for the betterment of wildlife and their communities.