PAGE 7 MAZINA’IGAN FALL 2017 • WIIGWAAS • Wiigwaas: A Status Report According to traditional stories, wiigwaas (paper birch bark) was an early gift to man to create a wiigwaasi-jiimaan (birch bark canoe) and explore the world. Since then the Ojibwe have discovered numerous uses for wiigwaasaatig (paper birch tree), including medicine, wiigwaasi-makakoon (birch bark baskets pl.) and small crafts all the way to wiigwaasigamigoon (birch bark lodges pl.). The wiigwaasaatig is fundamental to the Ojibwe identity. So it should come as no surprise the Anishinaabe are in-tune to changes that occur on the landscape and impact the wiigwaasaatig. Asoriginalforestmanagers,theOjibwemanagedinfavorofthewiigwaasaatig. Tribes would intentionally burn drier locations to promote birch, berries and other disturbance-dependent species. When the time came to gather wiigwaas, harvest- ing was done in a respectful manner, did not kill the tree and therefore did not harm the overall resource.This is a common misconception among non-traditional harvesters that harvesting the bark harms the tree. There is something happening, however, to wiigwaasaatigoog (paper birch trees pl.) in the Ceded Territories as harvesters are reporting less “canoe-sized” birch as well as less birch overall across the landscape. In recent years, similar observationshavebeenreportedwithindifferentagenciesthatmanageresourcesin the Ceded Territories. Interestingly, these shared viewpoints have created a unique intersectionbetweenTraditionalEcologicalKnowledge(TEK)andWesternScience thatishelpingresearchersbetterunderstandthecurrentstatusofwiigwaasaatigoog and the changing dynamics of the resource for generations to come. Inventory and population trends In2010,theForestInventoryandAnalysis(FIA)programfoundthattheCeded Territories contain 29% of all wiigwaasaatigoog in the United States. Within the upper Great Lakes States (MN, WI, & MI) alone, the Ceded Territories contain 65.9% of all paper birch trees ≥5 inches diameter at breast height (dbh) and 66.2 percent of the large (≥11 inches dbh) trees (Fig 1). Thisinformationtellsusthatwiigwaasaatigoogarestillpresentonthelandscape and in higher proportions than other places in the country, but it doesn’t speak to changes in populations from past to present and why harvesters are reporting less and less birch. This is where it is valuable to consider trends over time in order to really understand what is going on in the forests. Thefutureofwiigwaasaatigisaconcerntotribalharvesters.From2004through 2006 a cooperative effort between GLIFWC and the USDA Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) combined TEK and Western science in a mutual effort to further inventory the wiigwaasaatig resource in the Ceded Territories. This project involved tribal gatherers to “document TEK on desired bark characteristics for traditional uses and translate this into an inventory field guide.” This guide was then provided to the FIA program, which incorporated the methods into its preexisting manual and trained inventory crews in the imple- mentation of the TEK protocol. This partnership resulted in an article published in the Journal of Forestry titled “Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge as a Basis for Targeted Forest Inventories: Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) in the US Great Lakes Region.” It is still a generally new concept to incorporate both Traditional Ecologi- cal Knowledge with Western science in modern scientific research. This coop- erative project helps demonstrate how these approaches can be complementary and provides a model for future targeted inventory efforts where other traditionally important species are concerned. In addition, it provides results that correspond to what tribal harvesters are seeing on the landscape: wiigwaas supply has declined. GLIFWCfurtherpartneredwithNorthernResearchStationintwosubsequent reports. The first general technical report published in April 2015, “Paper Birch (Wiigwaas) of the Lake States, 1980-2010,” detailed wiigwaasaatig data collected by the FIA program on forested lands in the Great Lakes region. The results from this 30-year timeframe showed “the number of birch trees has decreased by 49% and total bark supply has decreased by 45.5% on forest land in the Ceded Ter- ritories since 1980.” The second is a Resource Bulletin titled: “Forest Resources within the Lake States Ceded Territories 1980-2013.” These bulletins are generally published based on US State boundary lines and summarize the forest resources therein. This report is unique in that it was the first time the U.S. Forest Service reported on forest conditions using the boundaries of the Ceded Territories. Data collected over the 34 years were summarized for all forest resources in the CededTerritories, however, in regards to wiigwaasaatigoog the results show “there are now about half as many paper birch trees (5 inches diameter and greater) on timberland as there were in 1980.” CassandraKurtz,aprimaryauthorwiththeNorthernResearchStationsaid:“I think it is interesting to see the decline in birch three inches diameter and greater while the other species show an increase in that class. We are seeing an increase in forestland in the region, an increase in the number of trees, yet a reduction in birch, with many factors playing in. Another key finding is that areas covered by smaller diameter wiigwaasaatig stands (which can be expected to grow into large diameter stands and provide a future resource) has decreased by 75% over the same period (1980-2013).” InthemostrecentrevisionoftheWisconsinDepartmentofNaturalResources’ silvicultural handbook, researchers found (using Forest Inventory data) that from 1983 to 2012 there has been a large decrease in the number of acres of paper birch in the 0-to-59 year age classes (Fig 2). What does this all mean? In simple terms, wiigwaasaatigoog and quality wiigwaas are declining across the Ceded Territories and research focus has now shifted toward “why is it declin- ing?” and “what can be done?” Many factors are contributing to the decline of birch, but near the top of this list is “changes to forest management practices.” In order to promote stands of wiigwaasaatigoog, the seeds generally require exposed mineral soils with high light levels and good drainage. Colleen Matula, a forest ecologist with the Wis- consin DNR, said: “The reasons for the decline is forest health; challenges in managing birch stands (as they require further steps such as scarification or fire); cover type con- version to aspen, red maple or other species.” By Alex Wrobel, GLIFWC Forest Ecologist Fig 1. Current basal area of paper birch in the Lake States, within the boundaries of the Ceded Territories of 1836, 1837, 1842 and 1854 Treaties (Map by USFS Northern Research Station) Fig 2. Acres of birch by age class from 1983 through 2012, from the WDNR Handbook. (see Wiigwaas, page 22) Hard frosts readies balsam boughs Each autumn, around three weeks or so after the September Equinox, the balsam bough gathering season gets underway in the Ceded Territory. Tribal membersandnon-nativesalikesupplytheregionalcraftindustrywiththousands of pounds of balsam every year used in Christmas wreaths and decorative holi- day garland. Balsam bough gathering is a regular, seasonal income source for many. Recent prices fluctuate at around 25¢, a quarter-per-pound. Picked with respect and care, the balsam resource is sustainable one and can be productive far into future. Balsam gathering tips • Contact buyers before you pick—find out how long they want branches cut and how much they pay per pound. • Don’t pick too early—wait until the third hard frost of autumn or needles may fall off. • Cold nights, good snaps—snapping off branches by hand is most effective following freezing nighttime temperatures. Branches become flexible in warm temperatures. • Be prepared to navigate the woods—refer to a compass, map, plat book, or smartphone to avoid private property or getting lost. • Don’t overcut—remove branches from only the lower one-third of the tree to keep it healthy. The tree will yield another harvest in around five years. For off-reservation permit information see or call 715.682. 6619. —CO Rasmussen