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USACE, Mechoopda Tribe celebrate first in Tribal Partnership Program

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District
Published June 7, 2021
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Sacramento District Commander Col. James Hundura tours the Tribal Partnership Program Clear Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project Area near Chico, California May 7. Col. Handura was joined by members of the Mechoopda Tribe as the project team briefed the different sections of the restoration and their importance to the natural flow of the creek.

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This eroded section of Clear Creek will be repaired under the Tribal Partnership Program Clear Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project. Slightly graded the creek banks will return the flow of water into the natural flood plain.

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Mechoopda Tribe Environmental Technician Patrick Spielman, center, explains the complex plant life along Clear Creek May 7. The ecosystem restoration along the creek will replenish many of the native plants in the area.

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Clear Creek south of Chico, California gently flows through Mechoopda Tribal lands May 7. The creek originates near Paradise, California and eventual reaches the Sacramento River in the Central Valley.

Standing near the waters of a meandering California creek about 15 miles southeast of Chico, members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District and the Mechoopda Tribe of Chico Rancheria recently celebrated two first-of-a-kind milestones: The first single-purpose ecosystem restoration study in the nation under the Tribal Partnership Program, and Sacramento District’s first study in this program.

In the late 1800s the Mechoopda Tribe had been displaced from their ancestral lands, and in their absence, ranching, farming, and mining practices led to ecological degradation due to invasive plants and erosion. In 2003, the Tribe successfully reacquired 635 acres of their land, and in 2018 the Department of Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs placed it into trust for the Tribe. A piece of this parcel is now part of the study area.

For the Mechoopda, Clear Creek and the surrounding area holds cultural significance and they use the local plant resources for traditional cultural, medicinal, and ceremonial purposes. But over the years, these resources diminished. Furthermore, several points along Clear Creek experience erosion, which has led to caving banks, thus reducing floodplain connectivity. This study aims to correct this.

“The main purpose of the study is to restore a 1.6-mile reach of Clear Creek on the property, reduce the invasive, non-native species and restore the area with native and culturally significant riparian and floodplain plants,” said Sacramento District’s lead planner for the project, Elise Jarrett. “This will support the Mechoopda’s traditional, cultural, medicinal and ceremonial practices, in addition to reclaiming ecological stewardship activities for tribal members on their land.”

Since fall of 2018, Sacramento District has continued to consult and work with the Tribe in conjunction with ecosystem restoration experts in order to better understand what’s happening in Clear Creek and the surrounding area.

“This helped us come up with a series of alternatives that would best address the problems and achieve the objectives of providing more culturally significant plant resources out here on the land,” said Jarrett.

The Tribe strongly supports the District’s recommended plan and has provided Letters of Intent and Self-Certification of Financial Capability to continue their involvement in both the Preconstruction, Engineering and Design and Construction phases of the project. This next work will begin upon receipt of funding.

“Working with the Corps has been a great experience, and we are very happy to see the value that this project will add to the land,” said Colin Klinesteker, director of Office of Environmental Planning and Protection for the Mechoopda Tribe.

When completed, the project will have restored 42 acres of riparian habitat and valley oak woodland habitat, expanded the riparian corridor, and provided minor bank grading to allow for floodplain connectivity.

“This is a minor shaping of the creek bank that would allow water, during high flows, to escape the banks and fill in the surrounding areas, providing longer saturation that helps with the goal of the riparian restoration,” said Sacramento District landscape architect Brad Johnson.

Through this Tribal Partnership Program study, the U.S. Army Sacramento District has been able to work with the Tribe on a meaningful project, while building and strengthening relationships with both Tribal Council members and staff.

“We feel grateful to have the support and the partnership of the Army Corps of Engineers, and we feel like we’re in good hands,” said Klinesteker. “We’ve been very impressed.”

One of the unique things about the Tribal Partnership Program is the ability to roll from the feasibility phase directly into preconstruction engineering and design, and then into construction without additional congressional authorization.

“The work we are doing now sets a great precedent for work to come,” said Jarret. “This is a great example of future work with tribes.”