Forests and First Americans

November 2019

For thousands of years, First Americans managed the landscapes on which they lived, building ecological knowledge that guided generation after generation. Increasingly, Western science is acknowledging this wealth of knowledge, culture, history, and perspective and working with partners to integrate traditional ecological knowledge into research and land management. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we present stories about a scientist, research, a product and a partnership that underscore the Northern Research Station’s commitment to honoring the knowledge and perspectives of First Americans.

Environmental Education

The USDA Northeast Climate Hub is helping connect Seneca Nation students to climate change education through cooperative, problem-based learning, with youth engagement funding from the Eastern Region and Northern Research Station. Using data from a Tribal Soil and Climate Analysis Network weather station, students learned about weather observations and climate change, and how weather and climate data are directly integrated into land management decisions on the ground for management of the Seneca Nation farm. Seneca Nation Emergency Management co-led this project with hopes to promote student’s interest in natural resources careers.

This project is a partnership between the USDA Northeast Climate Hub, Allegheny National Forest, Seneca Nation of Indians Department of Emergency Management, Gakwi:yo:h Farm, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, SUNY Fredonia, NOAA Northeast Regional Climate Center, and GLOBE.

Featured Scientist

Christel Kern

Christel KernResearch Forester Christel Kern grew up in Wisconsin where her family had a cabin in the North Woods.  She spent many summer days picking berries, swimming, hunting and fishing. These experiences fostered her pursuit of a career in forestry research and her desire to share what she learns with others. 

About 6 years ago, when she was based at the Northern Research Station’s lab in Grand Rapids, Minn., Kern and a colleague applied for and received a small grant that enabled them to travel to Wisconsin and begin networking and establishing relationships with natural resource professionals in the local tribes. The goals included developing a mechanism for information exchange and shared learning, and providing opportunities for students to work on projects of mutual interest to the Forest Service and the tribes.

Since that time, and with additional funding, the original project has expanded into three projects with two Native American tribes and three groups. Work with Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE) is focused on Northern hardwood forest management as it relates to canopy gaps and forest regeneration. MTE is the business arm of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and has worked to produce and manufacture quality sustainable forest products since 1908. The project has involved sampling and characterizing forest gaps and regeneration pre- and post- cutting. Results of the study have been documented in a September 2017 Journal of Forestry article

In a second project, Kern and Research Aquatic Ecologist Anne Timm are working with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians. The Stockbridge-Munsee land in Wisconsin is dominated by wetlands and black ash forest and is highly valued by the tribe for its water quality, fisheries habitat and trout streams.  However, the tribe is very concerned with the approach of the emerald ash borer (EAB), a non-native insect that is proving to be devastating to ash species and would have significant impacts on forested wetland function.  The role of the NRS scientists is to establish an improved long-term monitoring network to document pre-invasion wetland hydrology, determine post EAB impacts, and validate use of other tree species to compensate for ash loss.

The third project, with the College of Menominee Nation, is a practical study of ground-layer plant phenology and microclimate designed to answer the question, “Are species that shift phenology with shifting climate more successful?”  The project will also provide opportunities for experiential learning with the development of a “phenology trail.” 

“Common to all three projects are collaborations between NRS scientists, tribal members and students in work on tribal lands where mutual learning is occurring and real world experiments are leading to insights that will help the tribes sustain their forest lands for generations into the future,” said Kern.  “It is our privilege to work alongside them in this process.”

More Information on Christel Kern >>

Featured Product

Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu

Mt. Baldy. Photo by Todd Ontl, USDA Forest ServiceDibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu, was created to help incorporate indigenous and traditional knowledge, culture, language, and history into the climate adaptation planning process. The Menu provides a structured list of climate adaptation strategies and is designed to be used with an Adaptation Workbook. This resource is already being used to help tribal natural resources professionals develop climate adaptation plans and to help nontribal organizations communicate with tribal communities. Created in concert with the Ojibwe and Menominee, original stewards of the Great Lakes Region, it is intended to be adaptable to other indigenous cultures. Its development was led by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, in close collaboration with the Northern Research Station’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, and numerous other tribal, academic, intertribal, and government entities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The document opens with guiding principles for respectfully interacting with Great Lakes tribes, such as sharing Ojibwe and Menominee perspectives on relationships with non-human beings and how their languages shape and sustain these relationships. The Menu is written in English, but acknowledges that English and scientific terms currently used in land management tend to assume human dominance over non-human beings, which is at odds with a more reciprocal coexistence with the environment taught by many indigenous cultures.

Fourteen strategies, 60 approaches, and more than 100 tactics (actions) are presented in a tiered structure to help natural resource managers and planners design on-the-ground climate adaptation plans. Strategies are broad, such as “consider cultural practices and seek spiritual guidance.” Approaches describe how strategies can be implemented, such as “consult cultural leaders, key community members, and elders” and “consider mindful practices of reciprocity.” Actions describe how those approaches can be implemented on the ground. Considering mindful practices of reciprocity includes a tactic of offering asemaa/nāēqnemaw (tobacco) when requesting permission to use a gift (resource). Every strategy, approach, and tactic is explained in more detail through the Menu.

Although an excellent learning resource on its own, the Menu becomes a critical part of a framework when used with the Adaptation Workbook, helping natural resource planners clearly describe the adaptation intent of their land stewardship activities. More broadly, it is an example of how managers can incorporate the needs and values of tribal communities into any natural resource management issue.

More Information on Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu >>

Featured Research

Reimagining forests, with inclusion of Native American perspectives

Red pineIn recent decades, attitudes have evolved about two key aspects of the red pine forests that extend across Northern Minnesota, specifically the complexity of those forests and the rights of Native Americans to have a voice in their management.

For a century, scientists and foresters viewed red pine forests as structurally simple, single-aged stands that generate in the wake of fire, and traditional management followed this pattern by establishing even-age plantations of red pine. For the past two decades, Brian Palik, a research forester based in Grand Rapids, Minn., has focused on exploring the more complicated story of red pine and alternatives to traditional management of these forests. Palik’s research has established that a red pine forest is considerably more complicated than previously believed, often involving a mix of as many as 12 different pine, other conifer, and deciduous species. His research has documented benefits to wildlife and timber when management is based on a natural model emphasizing diverse age classes, natural gaps in forests, and more tree species.
Much of Palik’s research has been conducted on the Cutfoot Experimental Forest on the Chippewa National Forest, a 1.6 million-acre forest that includes the footprint of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, with about 672,167 acres managed by the National Forest and remaining lands managed by state, county, tribal governments, and private landowners. Over the years that Palik’s work was reimagining the nature of red pine forests, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and others have advocated for reimagining forest management to be more inclusive of Native American values and perspectives.

Today, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s Division of Resource Management has a voice in all aspects of national forest management and frequently partners with Palik on red pine research. This relationship has contributed to development of silvicultural approaches that reimagine the Great Lakes pine forests and are changing the way the resource is managed across the Lake States to be more inclusive of complex age structure and tree species diversity – and Native American values.

More Information on Variable retention harvesting in Great Lakes mixed-pine forests >>

Featured Partnership

Celebrating Over 20 Years of Tribal – USDA Forest Service Relations in the Great Lakes

GLIFWCJust over two decades ago, member Tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) and the Eastern Region of the USDA Forest Service and the Northern Research Station entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to articulate the Forest Service’s recognition of tribal treaty rights, tribal sovereignty and tribal capacity to self-regulate. The resulting document Tribal-USDA Forest Service Relations on National Forest Lands within the Ceded Territory in Treaties of 1836, 1837, and 1842 describes the government to government relationship between the Forest Service and the Tribes and acknowledges the Forest Service’s role in fulfilling the federal government’s treaty obligations and trust responsibilities. 

The research collaboration between the Tribes and the Northern Research Station is a rich forum for exchanging knowledge and conducting the science necessary to maintain and manage native communities and species in the region. For example, in response to Tribal concerns over the deteriorating quantity and quality of canoe birch, NRS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) partnered with GLIFWC to develop monitoring protocols based on Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and publish a general technical report on Paper Birch (Wiigwaas) of the Lake States and continues to lend expertise to the Paper Birch Working Group coordinated by GLIFWC. In 2017, GLIFWC became a partner in the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) which is associated with the Northern Research Station. This partnership resulted in the award-winning Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu that will assist Tribes in planning for and adapting to a changing climate in culturally appropriate ways.

The process of creating and following the MOU fostered better collaboration and communication between the Tribes and the Forest Service and resulted in Forest Service programs and studies that are more sensitive to native beliefs and practices.

More Information on Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission >>

Last updated: 11/01/2019