Nav: Home

Climate change impacts on Menominee nation's forest home focus of NSF funding

October 10, 2016

A Native American tribal nation in Wisconsin faces cultural and economic challenges as climate change impacts its forest home. A $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation will study this relationship and how it could inform decision-making about forest management.

Erica Smithwick, associate professor of geography and associate in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Penn State, is the principal investigator on the five-year project, funded from the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program.

Smithwick will work with an interdisciplinary Penn State team in collaboration with co-principal investigator Christopher Caldwell, director of the Sustainable Development Institute at the College of Menominee Nation. The Penn State team also includes Nancy Tuana, professor of philosophy, Alexander Klippel, associate professor of geography, Rebecca Bird, professor of anthropology, Klaus Keller, professor of geosciences and Robert Nicholas, research associate in EESI.

The project centers around the Menominee Nation, an indigenous people in the Great Lakes region whose remaining ancestral lands contain a contiguous forest that has been managed sustainably for timber harvesting for more than 150 years. The Menominee forest is vital for the cultural and economic identity of the more than 9,000 enrolled tribal members who live on or near the reservation, which is located approximately 45 miles outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

"The Menominee are increasingly noticing that there are threats to their forest sustainability practices," Smithwick said. "They are noticing maybe some species aren't doing as well, and some trees are suffering from pests or pathogens. They are wondering how their ability to manage the forest will be impacted if those disturbances become more severe."

Penn State has collaborated with the College of Menominee Nation for several years under the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM) project, directed by Keller.

"They have this ethos that this resource basically has to sustain them in perpetuity," said Robert Nicholas, who recently visited the nation through SCRiM. "The forest is built into the tribe's stories about themselves, their history."

The new funding will allow Penn State's partnership with the Menominee to continue, and will help researchers better understand how tribal values and customs inform the types of decisions the nation will face due to a changing climate.

"College of Menominee Nation is one of 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities that serve tribal nations in the U.S," Caldwell said. The ability to evaluate applicable and effective tools and resources for tribal decision-making is a role that TCUs must continue to develop on behalf of their communities and other tribal communities. This project will develop more options for tribal decision-makers to consider as they plan a future for our people, community and forest. It will also provide opportunities that will provide opportunities for our students to develop into our future scientists, managers, and leaders."

Working with project partners Robert Scheller and Melissa Lucash at Portland State University, the team will simulate the impacts of management strategies under different future climate conditions, and see how biodiversity and economic factors will be impacted.

"We analyze how well different management strategies achieve a wide range of objectives in the face of climate and other uncertainties," Keller said. "This is a hard and important problem."

The team will partner with the Menominee to better understand how their tribal values inform the types of decision choices that concern them. This will ensure that the project's research is focused on the knowledge the Menominee need to make the decisions that matter to them.

The project also has a virtual reality component led by Klippel. State-of-the-art 3-D and 4-D virtual reality images will allow stakeholders to visualize forests of the future.

"Environmental decision-making is going through a paradigm shift, from communicating with maps and graphs to VR and 3D modeling," Klippel said. "This allows us to ground our scenarios in experiential landscapes, enabling stakeholders, scientists, and interested participants to witness potential effects of climate change first."

Using the technology, the team can study issues like how dramatically a landscape must change for participants to notice, and how being immersed in a climate-change scenario impacts values.

"Maybe the forest looks similar, except the species are different," Smithwick said. "Now imagine that perhaps that missing species was one from which you used to harvest berries when you were growing up. For you, that would be a big loss. We are hoping that being in the virtual environment helps people perceive the loss in a different, more visceral way."

The project is one of 11 selected for CNH funding this year. The grants, which totaled $16.7 million, support research into complex interactions between humans and natural systems, according to the NSF.

Penn State

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#535 Superior
Apologies for the delay getting this week's episode out! A technical glitch slowed us down, but all is once again well. This week, we look at the often troubling intertwining of science and race: its long history, its ability to persist even during periods of disrepute, and the current forms it takes as it resurfaces, leveraging the internet and nationalism to buoy itself. We speak with Angela Saini, independent journalist and author of the new book "Superior: The Return of Race Science", about where race science went and how it's coming back.