The team at Soboba Tribal Environmental Department stays busy keeping the Soboba Indian Reservation healthy and recently hosted an open house to share that news with Tribal members and others. About 30 visitors RSVPd for the Sept. 29 event that included sandwiches, snacks, raffle prizes and lots of information.
The Soboba Tribal Environmental Department is committed to protecting, restoring, and enhancing natural resources on the Soboba Reservation for all tribal members past, present and future. The STED works to raise awareness of all aspects of the environment. This includes solid waste issues, pollution prevention, water and air quality, conservation measures, household hazardous waste disposal and many other areas.
The open house gave the department yet another community outreach opportunity to provide education and updates utilizing a slideshow to highlight some of its projects.
STED Environmental Director Christian Aceves, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with the department, said the event was designed as a way to connect to the community it serves. Because they are often seen out and about on the Reservation, describing some of the reasons they are doing what they do seemed appropriate.
“We want to let everyone know that we are here to help and we’re here to answer any questions,” he said. “Please feel free to stop by our office or call us at any time. We are here for you.”
Aceves explained a common misconception people have is that they are part of the national Environmental Protection Agency, which is an independent agency of the United States government that was proposed and implemented by President Richard Nixon in 1970 to ensure clean air and water. Since the EPA has no jurisdiction over Tribal affairs, STED is a liaison between the Tribe and the federal agency.
“On top of generous Tribal support, we qualify for many EPA grants to help us achieve our goals,” he said.
Current grants being utilized include one for Hazardous Household Waste so residents can safely dispose of items that can be dangerous to keep around their homes, such as old paint and solvents. The department hosts a quarterly event to try and make it as easy as possible to keep homes safe from hazardous materials building up. The next event is being planned for November.
STED Environmental Specialist Micah Knox focuses on the water and air quality on the Reservation and said through the Clean Water Act Section 106 and 319 grant programs, the department monitors water quality, creates educational materials to prevent pollution of water and assesses/addresses any nonpoint source pollution issues. Knox said water quality is tested for a multitude of parameters including temperature, pH level and other crucial elements. It has begun to be monitored for flow.
The newest grant is from the California Air Resource Board, which will allow the installation of air quality monitors to measure such things as temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure. The monitors will be directly connected to their own dedicated website where anyone can access the information in real time.
“What you drink is the same as what you breathe and we want it to be safe,” Knox said. “Graphs are available on our website and this newest grant will give us air quality details, minute by minute.”
Additionally, an annual community cleanup is held that enlists youth volunteers from the Soboba Tribal TANF program.
“Soboba Tribal TANF youth volunteers are always willing to assist STED in many events from Earth Day to the Household Hazardous Waste events and community clean-ups. Their ongoing support is appreciated and valued by this department,” Aceves said. “We admire Mr. (Harold) Arres’ continued devotion to teaching Soboba youth and his commitment to creating young leaders within the community.”
Administrative Assistant Angelica Rangel said this past summer’s event was very successful with more than 30 truck/trailer bins filled with about 15 tons of solid waste, household waste, e-waste and tires. The collected items were sorted and distributed to the proper authorities that oversee each area.
“Assisting the Soboba Elders is such an honor. STED hosts a multitude of special events for environmental health and sustainability that help both children and elders alike. All events, most notably cleanup events, offer special services for elders in need of extra assistance,” Aceves said. “STED also relies on Public Works and Canyon Crew and of course the support of the Soboba Tribal Council and Tribal Administration offices to ensure the success of each event.”
Rangel said April’s Tribal Earth Day was the biggest STED-hosted event of the year.
“Over 500 people attended and nearly 40 environmentally conscious vendors participated,” she said, adding there were free giveaways for all attendees, recycling boxes available throughout the event and educational material and activities provided by the participating vendors.
The STED regularly collaborates with other Tribal departments to ensure all is being done to provide a clean and safe environment. Parks and Recreation aids by placing and picking up recycling bins. Although STED operates within its own department to distribute recycling bins, permanent bins are located throughout various administration departments and areas. Temporary bins, such as cardboard boxes, are used for special events at the event coordinator’s request. STED works with CR&R to obtain these temporary bins at no cost.
Rangel said the recycling boxes placed at key locations throughout the community resulted in about 31 pounds of aluminum cans and plastic bottles being recycled last month, with all earnings going back into the program. These are disposable boxes that are provided for specific events and by year’s end about 50 of them are expected to be utilized.
Michelle Kaliher, who recently returned to the department as an administrative assistant, said Noli Indian school has been pivotal in many different aspects of the department. “Noli science classes participated in the second annual recycled art project contest at Tribal Earth Day and have now graciously volunteered space on school property to host a permanent air quality monitor for our California Air Resource Board Community Air Grant monitoring project.”
Knox talked about the tree monitoring that he works on with GIS Technician Justin Subith. He said about 150 oak trees have been tagged to date but there are more than 2,000 oak trees on the reservation so it’s an ongoing process. Trees are examined for overall health, damage, crown health, insect emergence and tree circumference.
“We have an annual tree planting event coming up to revitalize some areas on the reservation with trees that are indigenous to this area and the Canyon Crew is a crucial part of this project; they help plant and pick up the plants,” Knox said. “Public Works also aids by providing additional personnel and equipment.”
The team also used the open house event to bring awareness to challenges facing the reservation with the main concerns being erosion control and illegal dumping.
According to National Geographic, “erosion is described as the geological process in which earthen materials are worn away and transported by natural forces such as wind or water.” Aceves pointed out that other factors, such as off-roading vehicles in erosion vulnerable areas, also worsens the condition.
Yet another concern is the possibility of the Gold Spotted Oak Borer finding its way onto the Reservation. The GSOB is an invasive species contributing to the growing number of oak tree deaths occurring on federal, state, private and Native lands in Southern California. So far, it has not affected Soboba’s oaks. To prevent the GSOB from entering the Reservation, introducing outside wood sources such as firewood should be avoided. There were GSOB identification cards available at the event. Residents were asked to report any possible sightings.
Another concern STED is addressing is the fact that Soboba lands are having trouble sprouting new life due to high brush levels.
“Without human intervention, we could see a major loss of oak habitat in the next 50 years,” Knox said.
Aceves said the best way to be proactive is to keep the area clean by picking up any litter that is seen and disposing of it properly; never to burn or bury it. “Every bit of waste has its place,” he said. He also encouraged everyone to use greener and cleaner alternative cleaning products, plant more native species and try to reuse water whenever possible. Safer choice products can be found at www.epa.gov/saferchoice.
The STED takes a comprehensive approach to addressing environmental needs and concerns on and off the reservation. A large emphasis is placed on community outreach with a focus on youth. The development and presentation of workshops, meetings and classroom activities help produce awareness of the environment and reduce negative impacts. Team members also regularly participate in trainings, conferences and webinars related to grant topics and conditions.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians