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Garry Stephens Honored with AIANEA Award of Excellence for Conservation/Ou

story by Melissa Blair

Garry Stephens, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Zone 3 Wildlife Biologist in Corpus Christi and the Texas NRCS Tribal Liaison, was selected as the 2011 Award of Excellence Conservation/Outreach/Education honoree by the American Indian Alaska Native Employees Association (AIANEA) for NRCS.

Stephens received the award for his work with NRCS and the federally recognized tribes in Texas, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. This award recognizes the creativity and program design strategies used to successfully involve American Indian/Alaska Native clients.

Since being named the NRCS Tribal Liaison in 2010, Stephens has been developing the relationship between NRCS and the three federally recognized tribes in Texas by holding informal meetings with Tribal leadership, reporting NRCS activities to state and national leadership, and working with Tribal leaders to ensure they had opportunity to participate in USDA tribal consultation meetings to voice their concerns/issues with the 2008 Farm Bill. All three tribes now actively participate in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and two tribes have applied for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

"NRCS is proud of Garry's work with the tribes and the tribal leaders to further their conservation efforts in Texas," said NRCS State Conservationist, Salvador Salinas. "Garry is well-respected for his work in helping our county NRCS offices and private landowners on wildlife conservation planning and now the tribal communities in Texas are benefitting from his hard work and experience."

Stephens organized a workshop where more than 35 USDA-NRCS employees and conservation partners learned about the habitats of rare, threatened, and endangered plants as well as plants of cultural concern that inhabit South Texas rangelands.

He worked with the Coahuilteco Huichol Tribe during a "Buffalo Harvest Blessing Ceremony" that demonstrates an alternative ranching enterprise at the Shape Ranch in Dimmit County.

Stephens coordinates participation and travel for Texas Tribal representatives to attend the American Indian/Alaska Native Intertribal Ag Symposiums. In Dec. 2011, NRCS participated for the first time in the tradeshow with a new display that Stephens assisted with developing. He also assisted in developing presentation by NRCS and Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas shared about the cooperative efforts to restore culturally significant longleaf pines on Tribal lands in the Big Thicket of East Texas. A video highlighting longleaf pine restoration efforts with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas that Stephens worked with the NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist to develop was shown throughout the conference.

"As the wildlife biologist for Zone 3, Garry is responsible for servicing 51 counties, but no matter where he happens to be in any of those counties, I can always count on getting an immediate answer or call back, even on weekends from Garry," said Ted Herrera, Tribal Leader of the Coahuilteco Huichol Tribe. Herrera, who nominated Stephens for the award, serves on the NRCS Texas State Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) and as an Elder of the AIANEA for NRCS.

"Whenever our request calls for a higher approval, our Tribe is very fortunate in that Garry has a very good working relationships with his Department Heads all the way up to our State Conservationist who provide him with excellent support," said Herrera.

Stephens also coordinated a meeting with NRCS, tribal leaders of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, and the Texas Forest Service to discuss strategies for the Tribe to develop a nursery for the production of longleaf pine seedlings as well as a trip to visit with the Louisiana Dept. of Forestry Plant Nursery to evaluate nursery operations for the production of longleaf pine and other culturally significant plant species for restoration work on Tribal lands.

The purpose of American Indian Alaska Native Employees Association (AIANEA) is to provide a forum for NRCS employees to exchange ideas, network, mentor, train, and add value to the agency by being a linguistic, cultural and ethnic bridge to our communities and other employee organizations.

(Left to Right) Garry Stephens, Beverly Moseley, Kyle Williams, and Ronald Harris at the Intertribal Agriculture Council/Indian Nationals Conservation Alliance meeting.

Garry Stephens actively works with NRCS and its employees and conservation partners to educate, inform and involve the three federally recognized tribes in conservation in Texas. (Left to Right) Garry Stephens; Beverly Moseley, NRCS Zone 4 Public Affairs Specialist; Kyle Williams, Tribal Council vice chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and Ronald Harris, NRCS District Conservationist in Livingston, at the Intertribal Agriculture Council/Indian Nationals Conservation Alliance meeting.