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CSUN Partners With  Fernandeño Tataviam Band to Build Urban Forests in the Valley

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Aerial view of North Hollywood and Burbank in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California.

California State University, Northridge is partnering with the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and the Tataviam Land Conservancy to battle the impact of climate change in disadvantaged communities throughout the San Fernando Valley by establishing “urban forests.”

With the support of a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Urban and Community Forestry Program, university officials and tribal leaders plan to tap into the tribe’s traditional ecological knowledge to establish tribal nurseries and workforce development programs that focus on growing and planting culturally significant native trees in low-income communities that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution.

“As the caretakers of our native land in the San Fernando and Antelope Valleys, this grant will enable us to use our traditional ecological knowledge, in tune with current climate data, to bring back the forest and breathe new life into our communities,” said tribal president, Rudy Ortega, Jr. “We will do this by engaging with our Elders, tribal citizens and other stakeholders to ensure that the trees that we plant are sustainable and resilient.”

Crist Khachikian, a professor of civil engineering and construction management at CSUN and one of the project’s leads, elaborated on the project’s objectives. “Our efforts are geared towards enhancing the urban tree canopy,” Khachikian said. “Which is essential for cooling our cities and mitigating the effects of climate change in vulnerable communities.”

Khachikian stressed the importance of an inclusive approach. “Centering traditional ecological knowledge in our project allows us to pursue goals of equity, sustainability, and the creation of meaningful workforce development opportunities for marginalized youth,” he said. “Through urban forestry, we are not just addressing the pressing need for climate mitigation but are also nurturing a sense of cultural pride and environmental stewardship among the next generation.”

While CSUN is taking the lead in the project, in close collaboration with the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, communication studies professor Daisy Lemus emphasized that the project is designed to be collaborative — drawing not only on the skills and knowledge of tribal members and faculty, students and staff in disciplines across the university, but also on the talents of members of local governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations.

“This deliberate cooperation among the parties involved is a direct result of CSUN’s sense of stewardship of place and strong alliances with key partners such as the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians,” Lemus said. “We all coexist in a large urban region that is their ancestral home and encompasses CSUN’s campus, a region that is also particularly susceptible to urban heat island effects, while also presenting sizable urban reforestation opportunities.”

The Tribal Nursery and Tree Planting Project’s goals include establishing a tribal nursery of culturally appropriate and sustainable species; developing a regional network with partnerships that promote the benefits of native trees in the region; planting 750 trees in disadvantaged communities while engaging the community members in tree planting and maintenance education; and creating and implementing a nursery training program that includes academic workshops and symposia that focus on workforce development. The project’s organizers also hope to leverage the created partnerships to promote knowledge sharing to increase workforce awareness and skills in urban forestry.

“What’s exciting is that we’re breaking down silos, not just on campus but in the region, in a collaborative effort to deal with the impact of climate change today and environmentally plan for the future,” Khachikian said.

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