PAGE 17 MAZINA’IGAN SUMMER 2017 • WIIGWAASAATIG • Those of a certain age may remember paper birch (wiigwaasaatig or wiigwaasi-mitig) being common across the northwoods. Extensive clearcutting followed by intense fires in the early 1900s resulted in abundant regeneration of early-successional trees such as paper birch and aspen. Since then many areas of forest have matured, leaving less habitat for birch. Extensive aspen pulpwood stands have displaced birch as well. While still a fairly common tree, paper birch have become fewer and farther in between. Onpoor,droughtysites,paperbirch is relatively short-lived, and populations often begin to decline after 60-70 years. Onricher,moistersitesthough,birchthat reach the canopy often live significantly longer and get much larger. Surrounded by a forest of shade-tolerant trees such as hemlock, sugar maple and yellow birch, individual birch trees frequently live to be over 100 years old. By burning away some of the leaf litter and allowing more light to reach the forest floor, fire can create ideal site conditions for the germination, growth and survival of paper birch seedlings. Natives across NorthAmerica once made extensive use of fire for hunting, improvingthegrowthandyieldofberries and other vegetation, and regenerating browse for deer, elk, and other grazers. In eastern North America, fires set in areas with sandy soils (supporting pine forests and oak savanna) may have promoted birch reproduction as well. American Indians typically set fires that were relatively easy to control and designed to encourage new vegetation growth. But with European settlement, fire was pretty much taken off the table as a management tool. In recent years Ojibwe elders and gatherers have noticed a significant decline in the abundance of paper birch across the Ceded Territories. Canoe mak- ers are particularly concerned, as they need high-quality bark (wiigwaas) from large trees for their craft. This perception has been backed up by data gathered by researchers at GLIFWC and the US Forest Service. Their data shows that the number of birch trees across all size classes has been declining in recent decades, including large trees. In order to get a better picture of what types of forest support large birch, I visitedover40birchsitesacrossnorthernWisconsinandUpperMichiganlastsum- mer and fall. Many of these sites were approved for harvest by tribal elders from GLIFWC member tribes in 2001, as part of anAnishinaabe Wild Plant Traditional Environmental Knowledge project. (While these sites were considered acceptable for wiigwaas harvest, they didn’t necessarily have large trees with canoe-quality bark.) Several tribal elders suggested good areas to search, leading to several sites with large-diameter birch. Several more sites were found by simply watching the woods along the way. While seeing these large, old trees is both exciting and humbling, the purpose of this project was not to locate sites with big birch trees, but to learn more about what kinds of sites are likely to support large, healthy birch. While the information gathered wasn’t intended to allow a direct comparison between sites with large birch and sites with smaller birch, the sites with large birch did have some things in common. All but one site was on sandy loam to loamy sand soils. Sites were moist to well-drained, but not droughty. Mean soil pH (based on a limited number of samples from each site) was strongly acid, ranging from 4.07 to 5.31 (7.0 is neutral). Large, tall, healthy birch generally grew as scattered canopy trees in mature mixed forest of aspen, maple, northern red oak, basswood, hemlock, and other tree species. Last but certainly not least, the sites with large birch hadn’t been logged (at least not heavily) for decades. Obviously wiigwaasaatigoog can’t become big trees if someone comes and cuts them down when they’re young (like for birch sticks and poles). The search for big birch trees led to one site that seemed to be naturally perfect for paper birch. This site was on a hill facing Lake Superior. The open overstory was made up mostly of paper birch, with scattered aspen, sugar maple and red maple. There were lots of birch seedlings and saplings as well. Although the site hadn’t been logged, the canopy was apparently kept fairly open by periodic high winds off the lake, which would occasionally blow down individuals or small groups of trees. This resulted in patches of mineral soil and increased understory light levels, allowing for good birch regeneration and large, healthy birch trees growing together on the same site. Today paper birch faces many threats. In recent years large numbers of young trees, branches and even mature wiigwaasaatigoog have been cut to supply twigs, branches,polesandlogstothecraftanddecorationindustry.Evenmoreominously, climate change threatens to pull the rug out from under paper birch (so to speak) here in the southern end of its range. It is our hope that this project will provide a basis for future work into what is needed to maintain paper birch of all ages and sizes on the landscape. Chi-miigwech to the elders who took the time to identify and approve birch gathering sites in 2001, and to Boycee (Leon Valliere), Biskakone (Greg Johnson), Roger LaBine, Marvin DeFoe, RobertVan Zile, LarryVan Zile, Evelyn Ravindran, DeAnna Hadden, April and Jarrod Stone-Dahl, Dan Tadgerson and Sarah Bedell, who took the time to talk about this sacred tree. The vanishing “canoe birch” Insights into the big birch dilemma By Steve Garske, GLIFWC Invasive Species Coordinator Large paper birch like these have become few and far in between in many parts of the Ceded Territory. (SCG photo) GLIFWC intern Rashawn Bell and Sokaogon tribal member Leelyn Van Zile learn about canoe-making from expert canoe-maker Marvin DeFoe. (SCG) Canoes from St. Croix after their maiden voyage across Big Sandy Lake in northeastern Minnesota in July 2013. (SCG photo) to the river and Smith checks in with a pair of anglers who are casting plastic worms into the dark water for suckers—native fish that make a flavorful meal after a good brining and a half-day in the smoker. While Carrick and Hatfield reached their permit quota that evening, spearing 10 walleyes apiece,otherharvestersexperiencedmixedresults overtheseason.Overall,BayMillsspearerstooka combined116ogaawagfromtheLittleBaydeNoc tributaries:EscanabaandRapidRivers.Inlandlake spearingwaslimitedtoonewaterbody—Monocle Lake—where band fishers harvested just seven walleyes.RoundingoutthespringseasononMay 7,aBayMillsmemberfilledtheband’sloneBlack Lake sturgeon tag with a 47-pound spawned-out female measuring 60.5-inches. In western Upper Michigan, LacVieux Des- ert Band fishers focused harvest efforts on Lake Gogebic—a traditional hotspot where spearers took 3,552. In total, LVD spearers brought home 4,717 walleye from the Michigan 1842 Ceded Territory. Thetribecontinuestowithholdwalleye harvestpermitsforitshomewater,LakeLacVieux Desert, as researchers study the declining ogaa fishery (see page 10). LVD members, however, did spear three muskies from their home lake. The Mille Lacs Lake walleye harvest quota for Ojibwe bands edged up slightly over last year to 19,200 pounds. All eight 1837 Treaty tribes returned to the massive Minnesota lake in 2017 for a harvest dominated again by spearing. Perch, northern pike, and walleye were also taken by net.At press time with the spring season winding down, harvest totals measured in pounds stood at: 13,832.2 walleye; 2,817.7 northern pike; and 775.4 perch. Treaty fishers visited a half-dozen smaller Minnesota 1837 lakes as well, harvesting a total of 958.4 pounds of walleye from those waters. Once unheard of, the Wisconsin ceded terri- tory opener kicked off again at the end of March thisyear.Thelongseasonyieldedarecordharvest of 38,942 ogaawag, surpassing another extended season from 2015 when spearers took 38,583 walleyes. The muskie harvest came in at 202 fish from a declaration of 1,577. All harvest numbers are preliminary as of May 10. Freshwater lakes provide for Ojibweg (Continued from page 1)