KINGMAN – While most people can appreciate the beauty of the grasslands and rocky canyons of Northern Arizona, the land holds a special meaning for Ka-Voka Jackson.
These are the lands where her Hualapai Tribe ancestors lived and farmed and raised their families. Many of them are buried on the land.
Jackson, 24, who grew up on the Hualapai reservation in Peach Springs, has a special connection to her master’s degree project at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
She and a group of other UNLV ecology students spent their spring break restoring native plants at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the border of Arizona and Utah.
Jackson is collaborating with the National Park Service on research to remove invasive Ravenna grass weeds from several canyons along the Colorado River and replace them with native plants used in traditional Hualapai ceremonies and everyday life.
Not only do the invasive plants pose a wildfire risk, they’re displacing other plants central to Native American culture, religion and history, Jackson said.
“Just like other invasive plants can cause issues, it presents a problem because it squeezes out vegetation and it’s a fire hazard,” she said. “It’s a big grass that gets really tall and grows in close quarters. It provides all this dry vegetation that can pose a fire risk.”
Ravenna grass is not a “very friendly” plant, Jackson said. Wildlife won’t eat it because of its sharp, serrated leaves. It’ll leave humans with stinging paper-like cuts, she said.
Jackson recruited three UNLV undergraduates to drive nearly five hours to Page, then take a four-hour boat ride to camp in a remote desert area for five days of planting.
They transplanted white sagebrush, a medicinal plant whose leaves and stems are boiled into teas; willow baccharis and arrowweed, whose branches were woven into baskets and thatched roofs; and food sources such as prickly pear cactus, Indian rice grass and four-wing saltbush.
They also put in big bluestem grass, which is a native grass smaller than Ravenna that grows in seeps and springs.
It’s an ongoing project for Jackson, who juggles three classes at UNLV while raising her 8-year-old daughter. She’s working on a separate study examining Ravenna grass seeds in the laboratory for ways to eradicate the plant.
She’ll make regular visits to the planting site to monitor progress. The project’s success is dependent upon analysis of modern-day scientific factors such as climate change, drought and water quality.
Along with preserving the natural beauty and history of Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon national parks, Jackson is striving to maintain a delicately balanced ecosystem with her project. The survival of plants, insects, animals and humans is dependent upon each of their preservation, she explained.
UNLV ecologist Scott Abella was looking for students to work in his laboratory researching culturally important plants. He said he was delighted to get someone from a local Native American tribe.
“It is a special opportunity for her to work on her tribe’s ancestral lands,” he said. “The Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon area is a special place and as a protected national park unit, we want the area to be in a reasonably natural state.”