Tribal Government & News

Oregon State seeking Tribal help to restore region’s woodlands with traditional ecological knowledge

09.29.2022 Dean Rhodes Natural resources, Lands, Tribal relations


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

CORVALLIS – Oregon State University College of Forestry faculty are looking to partner with Pacific Northwest Tribal nations, including the Grand Ronde Tribe, on a three-year forest restoration effort to improve the resilience of the region’s woodlands to climate change through traditional ecological knowledge.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is providing $5 million to fund the pilot project, which will include collecting seeds of culturally and ecologically significant plants on Bureau of Land Management property.

“We will also be assisting soil processes and forest understory and overstory structure, as well as wildlife habitat,” said Cristina Eisenberg, the college’s new associate dean for inclusive excellence and director of Tribal initiatives. “All work will be done using traditional ecological knowledge best practices, and we want this to become part of a longer-term project.”

Oregon State said that in addition to the Grand Ronde Tribe, it will seek to partner with the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indians.

“We will engage each of these Tribal nations individually, co-creating partnerships that best reflect their unique community needs,” Eisenberg said. “The BLM is giving us the flexibility to adapt our project to best meet the needs of our partners.”

Traditional ecological knowledge is the accumulation of information, practices and beliefs about relationships and environmental functions, including all elements, species and processes within ecosystems, Eisenberg said. It has been acquired over multiple Indigenous generations through direct contact with the environment and is used in life-sustaining pursuits such as hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture and forestry.

Traditional ecological knowledge encompasses the world view of Indigenous peoples, Eisenberg said, including ecology, spirituality and human, plant and animal connections.

“We want to engage and empower Tribal youth to help find solutions to the pressing conservation problems we are facing in Oregon and beyond,” Eisenberg said. “A goal is to provide as many job and educational opportunities as possible for Tribal youth within the college. We also hope to foster a Tribal seed-growing business, to build on work that has already been done by some Tribal nations, and we will co-create an ecocultural restoration plan for federal land.”

Eisenberg, who is Latinx and Native American, said the project will follow Department of the Interior protocols for collecting seeds and will not release the data publicly without permission of the Tribal nations involved.