Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change

By Jeff Mulhollem
Native Americans’ use of fire to manage vegetation in what is now the Eastern United States was more profound than previously believed, according to a Penn State researcher who determined that forest composition change in the region was caused more by land use than climate change.

“I believe Native Americans were excellent vegetation managers and we can learn a lot from them about how to best manage forests of the U.S.,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Native Americans knew that to regenerate plant species that they wanted for food, and to feed game animals they relied on, they needed to burn the forest understory regularly.”

Over the last 2,000 years at least, according to Abrams — who for three decades has been studying past and present qualities of eastern U.S. forests — frequent and widespread human-caused fire resulted in the predominance of fire-adapted tree species. And in the time since burning has been curtailed, forests are changing, with species such as oak, hickory and pine losing ground.

“The debate about whether forest composition has been largely determined by land use or climate continues, but a new study strongly suggests anthropogenic fire has been the major driver of forest change in the East,” said Abrams. “That is important to know because climate change is taking on an ever larger proportion of scientific endeavor.”

Source: Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change – Penn State University, 2019-05-21

Protecting brown ash trees and tribal heritage

By Grace Neumiller, Keller Leet-Otley, and Tommaso Wagner

Brown ash trees, also known as black ash, are critically endangered throughout the state of Maine. The emerald ash borer, a parasitic beetle that has already killed ash trees across the United States, was first detected in Maine last May — several years before it was anticipated. Faced with these ongoing threats, the Wabanaki tribes — Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot — have been leading the defense of brown ash trees in Maine.

Native to wetlands, but often planted in New England towns, brown ash trees play a critical role in basket-weaving practices, particularly to those of the Wabanaki.

Jennifer Neptune, a member of the Penobscot Nation, director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers’ Alliance, and co-curator of an upcoming art exhibition at Colby College, says that brown ash wood is integral to indigenous basket weaving traditions. Not only does the wood possess flexibility and strength, but the brown ash is also considered to be the source of life in Wabanaki creation stories, central to Wabanaki culture. Under threat of local and global extinctions, brown ash tree endangerment jeopardizes the livelihoods of basketmakers and cultural practices of the Wabanaki.

Source: Protecting brown ash trees and tribal heritage – The County, 2019-05-11

Apache Tribe Blames US for Forest Ailments

By Brandi Buchman
Taking the United States to court, an Arizona-based Native American tribe blames federal mismanagement for putting their once thriving timber industry against the ropes.

Describing itself as the country’s 11th largest Indian reservation, the White Mountain Apache note that their vast natural resources “are of enormous economic importance to the tribe.”

“If managed correctly, the reservation’s natural resources would sustain the tribe and its members into the foreseeable future,” their complaint states, filed on March 15 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Though the United States has held these resources in trust for the tribe since at least 1871, the White Mountain Apache say mismanagement has resulted in substantial losses — the full extent of which is not yet known.

Source: Apache Tribe Blames US for Forest Ailments – Courthouse News, 2017-03-21