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Listening and Learning from Traditional Knowledge and Western Science: A Dialogue on Contemporary Challenges of Forest Health and Wildfire

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Native Americans relied on fire to maintain a cultural landscape that sustained their lifeways for thousands of years. Within the past 100 years, however, policies of fire exclusion have disrupted ecological processes, elevating risk of wildfire, insects, and disease, affecting the health and availability of resources on which the tribes depend. On Indian Reservations, tribal forest plans include prescribed fire to restore and maintain the lands. Public land managers are now considering ways to restore the fire-based ecosystem, but tribal knowledge about the use and effects of fire has largely been left out of the discussion. For 2 days in June 2010, 7 tribal elders joined with 20 native and nonnative scientists, resource managers, and academics to explore ways to integrate Native American stewardship practices, traditional knowledge, and philosophies with western science to address contemporary forest health and wildfire challenges. The workshop, convened on the Flathead Indian Reservation of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes located in western Montana, provided a forum for candid dialogue and knowledge sharing. This article, coauthored by all 27 participants, offers a summary background followed by candid highlights of dialogue along with recommendations for progress based on lessons learned. The central conclusion is that integration and application of traditional knowledge with western science for improved stewardship of natural resources will require enduring commitments to knowledge sharing that extend beyond the usual boundaries of professional training and cultural orientation such that learning can proceed, legacy myths might be corrected, and the forests and the people will benefit.

Keywords: Native American forestry; fire history; forest fuels; indigenous knowledge; traditional knowledge

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.476
    Ranking: 22 of 66 in forestry

    Also published by SAF:
    Forest Science
    Other SAF Publications
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