Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service Strengthen Partnerships

At the 14th annual “To Bridge a Gap” Meeting

The Ozark National Forest of Arkansas, pictured, is near Wyandotte, Oklahoma, where the conference was held. Photo by Jasari, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Ozark National Forest of Arkansas, pictured, is near Wyandotte, Oklahoma, where the conference was held. Photo by Jasari, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tribal Nations and the U.S. Forest Service recently met at the 14th annual To Bridge a Gap meeting to share scientific research and traditional ecological knowledge, while discussing strategies for managing cultural and natural resources in the National Forests. The meeting was held from March 30 – April 2, and was hosted by the Eastern Shawnee Tribe and the U.S. Forest Service Ouachita and Ozark National Forests.

“The meeting helps strengthen government to government relationships between the Forest Service and federally recognized tribal governments,” says Serra Hoagland, a biological scientist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS). “The management of cultural and natural resources is extremely important not only to the Forest Service, but also to many Tribes that were removed from their homelands.”

All 39 federally recognized Oklahoma Tribes attended the meeting, as well as many Tribes from other states. Government agencies, academic institutions, and private industry also attended. “Successful partnerships often depend on trusting relationships,” says Hoagland. “The meeting provides a venue for Tribes to develop bonds of trust and communication and establish practical ways of restoring ecosystems while seeking to benefit all participants.”

The meeting also provides Forest Service scientists and managers the opportunity to learn about traditional ecological knowledge, which has been developed by Tribes over many generations. Tribal leaders and members led sessions on sustainability, cultural resources, partnership successes, and other topics. Forest Service botanist Jan Schultz shared information about the Zaagkii Project, a tribal partnership that restores native pollinator-friendly plant communities, and other Forest Service scientists discussed a range of natural resource management and partnership successes.

“These conferences have been highly collaborative since 2002, when they first began,” says Hoagland, who recently coauthored a commentary on the history and significance of the meeting. The commentary was published in the Journal of Forestry.

“Traditional ecological knowledge can provide insights into how our nation’s forest and grasslands respond to human interventions and changing climates,” says Hoagland. Integrating traditional ecological knowledge and western science could help both the Forest Service and Tribes to become more environmentally sustainable, and the meeting is becoming a model for collaboration that is being adopted in other parts of the country.

Read the full text of the commentary.

For more information, email Serra Hoagland at sjhoagland@fs.fed.us

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