Engaging with Tribes is a Win-Win

Cody Sullivan
Research and Development
September 25th, 2017 at 8:30AM

Two women scientists kneeling down near the water taking measurements and placling small marker flags.
Adelaide (Di) Johnson, a US Forest Service hydrologist, and Sierra Ezzrè, a Tlingit High School student from Juneau, AK, conducting a geomorphology beach survey in Yakutat, AK.

The U.S Forest Service supports sustainable stewardship of 18 million acres of forest lands on Indian reservations. And of all the acres held in trust for tribes and individuals, nearly 4,000 miles border Forest Service lands.

Despite this large amount of overlap there’s a perceived disconnect between Forest Service science and traditional ecological knowledge. But tribes possess centuries of hands on knowledge that the Forest Service can learn from. Similarly, the Forest Service can provide science and tools to help tribes manage their forests and grasslands.

Recently, Forest Service Research and Development rolled out the Tribal Engagement Roadmap, an Initiative to improve communication, partnerships, and joint research between R&D and tribes and indigenous groups; as well as to incorporate diverse perspectives and traditional knowledge into Forest Service programs and staff. Now, Forest Service R&D has released the Tribal Engagement Roadmap Highlights Report which provides unique examples of Forest Service and tribal collaboration.

Within the Highlights report are 27 examples of joint research, partnerships, agreements, youth engagement, assistantships, internships, and collaborative initiatives between Forest Service and tribes or indigenous groups across the nation.

The effects of globalization, invasive species, loss of forest cover, and increasing energy demands are issues both the Forest Service and tribal governments must face. These 27 highlights illustrate the importance of maintaining efficient processes and increased resources for tribal engagement and collaboration, especially when change comes quickly and sometimes unexpectedly.

In Alaska, Forest Service researchers conducted a wood energy case study in coordination with representatives from Sealaska Regional Native Corporation and the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority. Using woody biomass for energy enables rural communities to become more self-sufficient while reducing energy costs. And across the continent in North Carolina the Forest Service partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the North Carolina Arboretum to develop a seed bank to preserve ethnobotanicals and culturally significant plants native to the southern Appalachians.

These research partnerships exemplify how the Forest Service and tribal communities exhibit similar understandings of landscape connectivity and ecosystem services; as well as similarities in how they respect individuals and the landscape, and their commitment to restoring and protecting the environment.