More than 18 million acres of forest land in the United States are under the care of tribal land managers. According to Bill Hargrove, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, the boundaries of these tribal forests are often easily recognized on remotely sensed imagery collected by aircraft and satellites. Why? Because tribal forests are typically very well managed and relatively unfragmented by roads, buildings, and other infrastructure. Healthy tribal forests provide a bounty of products and services that benefit tribes, other communities, and society as a whole.
Tribal land management is rooted in rich traditional ecological knowledge that guides sustainable practices to meet environmental, cultural, and economic needs now and generations from now. But even the best managed tribal forests are vulnerable to threats facing forests across the nation: infestations of invasive species, damaging wildfires, and changes in climate and land use. Unfortunately, tribal managers often face additional challenges due to inadequate resources, as outlined in a recent report by the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team.
With time and cost savings for land managers in mind, Eastern Threat Center scientists recently demonstrated planning and monitoring tools for tribal representatives. In May, the development team behind the Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options (TACCIMO) led a 3-hour virtual workshop for the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET) Natural Resources Committee during a semi-annual meeting held in Niagara Falls, New York. At the Intertribal Timber Council’s (ITC) Annual Timber Symposium in June, hosted by the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Hargrove presented an overview of the ForWarn forest disturbance monitoring system.
TACCIMO, a web-based climate change planning tool, offers tribal managers quick access to the best climate change science available for developing management options relevant to natural resource issues on tribal lands. Eastern Threat Center biological scientist Serra Hoagland attended the USET meeting and served as an on-site facilitator for the virtual TACCIMO workshop. Representatives from the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Seneca Nation of Indians, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida attended the TACCIMO workshop, and the training is now available online for all USET member tribes.
“The training allowed managers who are time-limited to perform vast scientific literature searches and create management options that are applicable to their issues. But the value of the TACCIMO training goes beyond addressing scientific needs of the tribe; it also provides a great foundation for relationship building,” says Hoagland, who is Laguna Pueblo and serves as a point of contact for the Forest Service Southern Research Station’s Tribal Relations initiatives.
ForWarn provides weekly maps based on satellite data that highlight potential forest disturbances and recovery that tribal land managers can use to monitor their lands and surrounding areas. During his presentation at the ITC Symposium, Hargrove provided disturbance examples detected on tribal lands with the ForWarn system. Hargrove also toured the Menominee Forest in northeastern Wisconsin, an intensively managed forest that supplies a tribal timber mill employing many tribal members. Though the forest is harvested often, Hargrove observed that the amount of standing timber is increasing every year.
“The Menominee have harvested this forest two-and-a-half times, yet it still thrives and has more forest resources than ever before. This is a testament to what good forest management practices can achieve,” says Hargrove. “We hope that the ForWarn system can add a new high-tech tool to the toolbox of the Menominee Nation, helping them to continue their impressive tradition of watchful forest stewardship.”
Tribal meetings and conferences provide unique opportunities to connect land managers with Forest Service Research and Development tools and technology. Eastern Threat Center scientists will continue to engage tribal communities in an effort to complement their sustainable practices and traditional ecological knowledge as well as to gain important feedback to meet tribes’ emerging needs. Hoagland adds, “Some of the most valuable moments at these conferences for me is spending time and having heartfelt side conversations with tribal elders about our environment. These discussions are always a bonus to an already successful event.”