Traditional Ecological Knowledge

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Envisioning Futures with Wildfire Webinar Series

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11-week lecture series Lookout: Envisioning Futures with Wildfire, we’ll scan the horizon for the ideas and stories that can guide us through this critical and disorienting time. We’ve invited speakers who offer perspectives from across the arts, humanities, and environmental sciences to think about questions like: What can we learn about transformation from fire’s destructive and creative force? How should we live differently, both with each other and on the planet, in this era of wildfires? How can we honor fire as an ancient, rejuvenating element while also honoring all that has been lost to wildfire?

This series is hosted by the Spring Creek Project and the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative at Oregon State University and co-sponsored by OSU’s Center for the Humanities, OSU’s Sustainability Office, OSU’s Arts and Education Complex, and Terrain.org. Additional co-sponsors for individual talks are noted in the schedule below.

The talks in the series will be broadcast live on Zoom Tuesdays at 6 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. CST / 9 p.m. EST from January 4 to March 15. Free and open to everyone.

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Supporting the revitalization of Indigenous cultural burning

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Traditional fire practitioners are working to resist the impact of settler colonialism and reestablish cultural burning to promote traditional foods and materials, exercise their sovereignty in land management, and strengthen their communities’ cultural, physical and emotional wellbeing. Despite broad support for cultural burning, the needs of practitioners are often poorly understood by non-Native people, limiting the potential for productive cross-cultural partnerships and programs and services that serve Indigenous nations and communities. This article describes lessons learned from two Indigenous Fire Workshops that brought together cultural fire practitioners, researchers, agency and NGO representatives and members of the public to learn about the use and benefits of cultural burning in California.

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Native American fire management at an ancient WUI

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As residential development continues into flammable landscapes, wildfires increasingly threaten homes, lives, and livelihoods in the wildland–urban interface (WUI). Although this problem seems distinctly modern, Native American communities have lived in WUI contexts for centuries. When carefully considered, the past offers valuable lessons for coexisting with wildfire, climate change, and related challenges. This webinar will show that ancestors of Native Americans from Jemez Pueblo used ecologically savvy intensive burning and wood collection to make their ancient WUI resistant to climate variability and extreme fire behavior. Learning from the past offers modern WUI communities more options for addressing contemporary fire challenges. Public/private–tribal partnerships for wood and fire management can offer paths forward to restore fire-resilient WUI communities.

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The surprising history of wildfires and the West

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We’ve spent 100 years growing a tinderbox across the West. Now it’s wildfire season. Controlled burning – an indigenous tradition that’s been used for millennia – might be a solution.

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How traditional tribal perspectives influence ecosystem restoration

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The hundreds of Indigenous tribes in the United States harbor diverse perspectives about the natural world, yet they share many views that are important for ecosystem restoration efforts. This paper features examples of how such views have guided ecosystem restoration through partnerships between tribal communities and the U.S. Forest Service in the western United States. Traditional perspectives have influenced restoration by deepening the understanding of reference conditions, expanding consideration of system dynamics, and guiding treatment based upon ethical principles and beliefs. More holistic perspectives may enhance restoration success by encouraging positive psychological and social effects that help sustain community efforts. Guided by traditional perspectives, restoration activities can reveal evidence of past human engagement with the land, which further illustrates the need and opportunity for restoration. Traditional perspectives can encourage more integrative, ethical, and self-reinforcing restoration that will benefit present-day tribal and non-tribal communities.

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We’re not doing enough prescribed fire in the western US to mitigate wildfire risk

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Prescribed fire is one of the most widely advocated management practices for reducing wildfire hazard and has a long and rich tradition rooted in indigenous and local ecological knowledge. The scientific literature has repeatedly reported that prescribed fire is often the most effective means of achieving such goals by reducing fuels and wildfire hazard and restoring ecological function to fire-adapted ecosystems in the United States (US) following a century of fire exclusion. This has translated into calls from scientists and policy experts for more prescribed fire, particularly in the Western US, where fire activity has escalated in recent decades. The annual extent of prescribed burning in the Western US remained stable or decreased from 1998 to 2018, while 70% of all prescribed fire was completed primarily by non-federal entities in the Southeastern US. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was the only federal agency to substantially increase prescribed fire use, potentially associated with increased tribal self-governance. This suggests that the best available science is not being adopted into management practices, thereby further compounding the fire deficit in the Western US and the potential for more wildfire disasters.

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Exploring a multi-disciplinary approach to incorporating traditional knowledge into fuels treatments

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This study sampled 30 plot pairs that were treated or untreated prior to being burned by the North Star Fire and again one growing season post fire. Species diversity was significantly increased by wildfire in both treated and untreated plots. Species richness was significantly increased in the plots that were treated, and there was no significant change in species richness from wildfire within the untreated plots. The percent canopy cover of two of the six culturally important plants (Fragaria spp. and Arnica cordifolia) significantly increased one growing season post wildfire within treated plots and one (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) significantly decreased in the treated plots post wildfire. These post-fire monitoring results were consistent with Confederated Colville Tribal member management recommendations and desired outcomes of understory thinning, prescribed fire, and natural ignition found using Participatory Geographic Information System.

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Community conversations: Applying traditional knowledge to fire management

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Challenges and solutions in applying TK and western knowledge (WK) to current approaches of wildland fire, fuels, and natural and cultural resource management.

Fire regime on a cultural landscape: Navajo Nation

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We worked with the Navajo Nation Forestry Department to evaluate the historical role of fire on a 50 km2 landscape bisected by a natural mountain pass. The landscape experienced frequent fires from 1644, the earliest fire date with sufficient sample depth, to 1920, after which fire occurrence was interrupted. The mean fire interval (MFI) for fire dates scarring 10% or more of the samples was 6.25 years; there were 13 large‐scale fires identified with the 25% filter with an MFI of 22.6 years. Fire regimes varied over the landscape, with an early reduction in fire occurrence after 1829, likely associated with pastoralism, in the outer uplands away from the pass. In contrast, the pass corridor had continuing fire occurrence until the early 20th century. Fires were synchronized with large‐scale top‐down climatic oscillations (drought and La Niña), but the spatially explicit landscape sampling design allowed us to detect bottom‐up factors of topography, livestock grazing, and human movement patterns that interacted in complex ways to influence the fire regime at fine scales. Since the early 20th century, however, fires have been completely excluded. Fuel accumulation in the absence of fire and warming climate present challenges for future management.

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Returning fire to the land: Celebrating traditional knowledge and fire

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In this webinar, Frank Lake, Research Ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station will present findings from workshops held in 2012 and 2014 to investigate how traditional and western knowledge can be used to enhance wildland fire and fuels management and research. The workshops engaged tribal members, managers, and researchers to identify challenges and formulate solutions regarding cross-jurisdictional work, fuel reduction strategies, and wildland fire management and research involving lands important to tribes. A key conclusion from the workshops is that successful management of wildland fire and fuels requires collaborative partnerships that share traditional and western fire knowledge through culturally sensitive consultation, coordination, and communication for building trust. Dr. Lake will present a framework for developing these partnerships based on workshop discussions.

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