The tribe knows the value of land. That’s why it is working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve wildlife habitat in its communities across the state.
The Choctaws have used NRCS’ Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) to improve 860 acres in Carroll County on their property Malmasion this year. Malmasion is the site of a plantation that was built among Choctaw hunting grounds. The plantation burned in the 1940s, and the Choctaws purchased the land in 2001.
The tribe, through its director of natural resources, Jason Grisham, is implementing wildlife conservation practices that enhance and restore habitat for wildlife. While habitat has improved for deer, this land also provides refuge for other native animals, including turkeys, squirrels and songbirds.
Since the tribe started working with NRCS, oak trees are dropping ample acorns, a favorite food of deer and other wildlife. Tribal members are also taking down bigger bucks—many with traditional bows.
A big part of wildlife management is the use of prescribed burning for habitat diversity. This practice is not only used by NRCS conservationists, but is also a method the Choctaws have used for hundreds of years and are currently using to enhance this land.
NRCS tribal liaison Tim Oakes has worked with the tribe’s forestry department on managing the forests, providing technical assistance on thinning. As the habitat matures, the Choctaws cut trees to provide firewood. It is tribal custom to use firewood during funeral services, where a fire is kept burning for three days. The Choctaws are able to meet the demand through proper forest management.
NRCS has also teamed up with the Choctaws in an educational project called “Wetland Discovery.” This 600-foot boardwalk meanders through a wetland constructed with WHIP funds. The elevated walkway has signs in written in English and Choctaw describing the native species of plants and animals.
Grisham said Tribal leaders have recognized the benefits of working with NRCS in recent years, and that future partnerships are on the horizon.