Assessing Future Life Along the Lumber River

Unique project partners Forest Service researchers with American Indian science and engineering students

Many tribal members, along with some historians and other scholars, believe that the river’s name comes from “Lumbee,” an original Siouan name for the river, rather than from its part in the timber history of the area.  Many tribal members and other locals continue to refer to the river as the Lumbee.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Many tribal members, along with some historians and other scholars, believe that the river’s name comes from “Lumbee,” an original Siouan name for the river, rather than from its part in the timber history of the area. Many tribal members and other locals continue to refer to the river as the Lumbee. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A new project brings together researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and North Carolina State University (NCSU) with students from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) to assess how land use and climate change impacts on the Lumber River will affect members of the Lumbee Tribe, the largest Native American tribe in North Carolina. Funded by a partnership grant from the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) and involving scientists from the SRS Center for Integrated Forest Science , the project will also focus on communicating results to tribal members as well as to scientific and resource management communities.

The only blackwater river in North Carolina designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the Lumber River flows 133 miles from its headwaters in central North Carolina to the Coastal Plain, where the river’s watershed is home to many of the 50,000 enrolled members of the Lumbee Tribe, whose ancestors have lived in the Lumber’s rich watershed for centuries.

Like many rivers across the South, the Lumber faces an array of future stressors from land use and climate change that include drought, extreme rain events, pollution, and deforestation. Stresses on the river will impact the communities of people who live along it.

“These kinds of effects may be especially strong in rural American Indian communities of the Southeast, where, because of the cultural significance of water and land resources, communities have a strong dependence on local land and water resources,” said Ryan Emanuel, NCSU assistant professor of hydrology and enrolled Lumbee tribe member who serves as advisor for the NCSU chapter of AISES.

The new two-year project will engage NCSU students from AISES in research on the impacts of land use and climate change focused not only on the hydrological processes of the Lumber River itself, but also on the well-being of tribal members living in the watershed. Students will work closely with Emanuel and with CIFS project leaders Jim Vose and Dave Wear, using datasets provided by CIFS to model the hydrology of the Lumber River and provide a comparative analysis of historical and predicted stream flows in the watershed.

Students and researchers will also prepare technical and outreach reports and presentations that summarize the work, with special attention to cultural implications and possible impacts on human well-being. The results will be presented to the Lumbee Tribal Council and the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. Students will also have the opportunity to present their scientific results at a conference, and to help with peer-reviewed scientific articles designed to share the results with scientists, natural resource managers, and decision-makers.

“The opportunity for AISES students to work closely with Forest Service researchers on a complex modelling project and to become familiar with Forest Service research is one of the great benefits of this partnership,” says Vose. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity for us at CIFS to gain new insights into looking at the human and cultural dimensions of the work we do.”

For more information, email Jim Vose at jvose@fs.fed.us or Dave Wear at dwear@fs.fed.us.

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