18 Dec 2010, 11:31am
Economics Management Philosophy
by admin

Traditional and local ecological knowledge about forest biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest

Charnley, Susan; Fischer, A. Paige; Jones, Eric T. 2008. Traditional and local ecological knowledge about forest biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-751. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 52 p.+

Full text [here]


This paper synthesizes the existing literature about traditional and local ecological knowledge relating to biodiversity in Pacific Northwest forests in order to assess what is needed to apply this knowledge to forest biodiversity conservation efforts. We address four topics: (1) views and values people have relating to biodiversity, (2) the resource use and management practices of local forest users and their effects on biodiversity, (3) methods and models for integrating traditional and local ecological knowledge into biodiversity conservation on public and private lands, and (4) challenges to applying traditional and local ecological knowledge for biodiversity conservation. We focus on the ecological knowledge of three groups who inhabit the region: American Indians, family forest owners, and commercial nontimber forest product (NTFP) harvesters.

Integrating traditional and local ecological knowledge into forest biodiversity conservation is most likely to be successful if the knowledge holders are directly engaged with forest managers and western scientists in on-the-ground projects in which interaction and knowledge sharing occur. Three things important to the success of such efforts are understanding the communication styles of knowledge holders, establishing a foundation of trust to work from, and identifying mutual benefits from knowledge sharing that create an incentive to collaborate for biodiversity conservation. Although several promising models exist for how to integrate traditional and local ecological knowledge [TEK and LEK] into forest management, a number of social, economic, and policy constraints have prevented this knowledge from flourishing and being applied. These constraints should be addressed alongside any strategy for knowledge integration.

Keywords: Traditional ecological knowledge, forest management, biodiversity conservation, American Indians, family forest owners, nontimber forest product harvesters, Pacific Northwest.

American Indians

… Most of the literature about American Indian TEK relating to forest management in the Pacific Northwest characterizes how they managed forest resources in prehistoric and historical times. Fire was an environmental management tool commonly used by indigenous peoples in California and the Pacific Northwest in the past, although not all tribes used fire and not all environments were shaped by it (Blackburn and Anderson 1993, Boyd 1999a, Gottesfeld 1994). The most common use of fire prehistorically and historically related to food production. Fire was used for other purposes as well, such as increasing the abundance and quality of materials used in basketry. Today, burning by American Indians occurs on a much reduced scale, for example in collaboration with federal land managers trying to reintroduce prescribed fire into the landscape (Anderson 2005).

Other techniques used to enhance desirable plant species included planting or broadcasting seeds; transplanting bulbs and other propagules, shrubs, and small trees to make them more abundant and accessible; modifying soils and digging to enhance the growth of root vegetables; removing undesirable plants that competed with valued plants; selective harvesting; pruning or coppicing berry bushes and other shrubs to enhance their productivity and to encourage certain patterns of growth; pruning trees and shrubs near desired plants to reduce competition; rotating harvesting locations; and diverting water for irrigation and to reduce erosion (Anderson 2005, Blackburn and Anderson 1993, Deur and Turner 2005b). Although such practices are not as widespread today, many of them persist on a much reduced scale (Anderson 2005, Deur and Turner 2005b, Senos et al. 2006).

By regulating the size, intensity, frequency, and location of anthropogenic disturbances, American Indians and Canadian First Nations are believed to have manipulated biodiversity (Peacock and Turner 2000). Burning practices of Indians influenced forest composition, and the distribution and abundance of many tree and shrub species (Kimmerer and Lake 2001). These practices set back succession and promoted habitat heterogeneity by maintaining mosaics of vegetation types in different stages of succession. Burning and other vegetation management practices also multiplied the presence of ecotones (Turner et al. 2003). Several researchers believe that habitat and species diversity were maintained as a result. …

Family Forest Owners

Family forest owners are private individuals and families who own forest land but do not own wood processing infrastructure (Birch 1996). Our understanding of family forest owners’ views of biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest is sparse. There are a few studies that explore Pacific Northwest owners’ views on topics that can be considered surrogates for biodiversity — for example, wildlife habitat, forest health, riparian quality, and ecosystem management. These and studies conducted elsewhere in the United States suggest that family forest owners are aware of aspects of biodiversity—including species diversity, structural diversity, ecological time scales, and landscape context—and may be predisposed to developing LEK. It is important to understand the context of owners’ LEK; owners that manage production forests may operate with different assumptions about biodiversity than owners managing for mature native forests that provide aesthetic enjoyment.

As with American Indians, family forest owners do not believe that management interferes with the “naturalness” of their forests; rather, they believe their forests are better off because of their interventions. Family forest owners use their LEK to manage biodiversity in several ways. They experiment with planting patterns to foster favored wildlife species and view qualities and to explore new species arrangements. For many, diversity indicates a healthy forest. To achieve this diversity, they cultivate a variety of native species in addition to the primary commercial species on their tree farms (Fischer and Bliss 2006a, 2006b). Owners are also known to set aside stands of hardwoods, brushy areas, and wide riparian corridors instead of converting them to plantations (Dutcher et al. 2004, Fischer and Bliss 2006a, Jacobson 2002a). In Oregon, some owners have used prescribed fire to reduce fuels and control invasive species, mimicking historical disturbance processes (Fischer 2005, Stanfield et al. 2003). Although little research has been done on the direct impacts of family forestry on biodiversity, one landscape analysis conducted in Oregon suggests that family forest owners may maintain forest habitat diversity (Stanfield et al. 2003). …

Tenure security among family forest owners provides an opportunity for them to develop and apply experiential knowledge by experimenting with different practices and conditions in their forests. Nevertheless, family forest owners are subject to regulations and policy requirements, and are the targets of mixed messages about how they should be managing their forests (Sampson and DeCoster 1997), which affect their ability to use LEK. Their management practices are also influenced by the economic context in which they operate. It must be recognized that although family forest owners are motivated to conserve biodiversity, they do so at the expense of other land uses, and risk incurring future regulatory restrictions. …

TEK and LEK persist, develop, and flourish through application. Yet many knowledge holders lack access to and some control over forest resources, or face economic and policy constraints that inhibit their use. Thus, serious efforts to integrate other knowledge systems for biodiversity conservation must address the fundamental structural issues—such as land tenure, the imposition of unfavorable forest management practices and policies, and market conditions—that threaten to undermine the viability of these knowledge systems and their implementation in diverse forest landscapes. …

Knowledge sharing may occur in formal or informal ways, but by working together and sharing ideas, management approaches emerge that integrate different forms of knowledge. Two things needed to make such efforts successful are understanding the communication and operating styles of the people that hold TEK and LEK, and establishing a foundation of trust to work from. The communication and operating styles of forest practitioners may be quite different from those of western scientists and agency forest managers, with lack of sociocultural understanding between groups creating a potential barrier to understanding these different styles. …

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