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What Climate Impacts are there on Forest Ecosystems?

Professor John Daigle from the Forestry Department, University of Maine at Orono and many traditional harvesters agree that basket making is a major economic concern for tribal artists. Climatic changes such as increased temperatures and more extreme precipitation dynamics have impacted the suitable habitat and biodiversity of tree species important to traditional and contemporary tribal economies in Maine. There has been scientific speculation regarding anticipated distribution of Brown/Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra), a critical species in traditional basketry, to shift further north with lower abundance in the central and southern regions of Maine.  


  • Social-cultural Impacts of Brown Ash Access/Availability 

  • Increased temperatures 

  • Invasive insects/Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Monitoring 

  • Adaptation Strategies 

  • Management and Stakeholder Involvement

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Source: Courtesy of Passamaquoddy Tribal Museum; photo by Steve Underwood, Research suggests that the quality and quantity of brown/black ash trees (Fraxinus nigra) in Maine will decrease as the climate warms. Damaging periods of drought, loss of protective snow cover, and threats from the invasive emerald ash borer all pose serious threats to brown ash, a key component in traditional basketry and vital link to ancestral ways.

Paramount in the mitigation for climate changes has been the anticipated arrival of the  Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) into the region and the engagement of primary stakeholders  within the State. Particularly, the involvement of traditional harvesters and basketmakers has been essential in examining those anticipated changes and the impacts being observed. Access to Brown Ash has also been exacerbated by the loss of habitat and private land ownership. Culturally, the lack of access for harvesting challenges the transfer of traditional ecological knowledge of the species through the indigenous languages to younger generations. 

The collaborative efforts of traditional harvesters and University of Maine forestry experts have identified mitigation, conservation and adaptive strategies concerning the precarious status of the Brown Ash and the locations of healthy stands (Ranco et al., 2012).

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Source: (Left) USDA-APHI, Emerald ash borer adult with wings spread. A serious threat to forest ecosystems, invasive insects such as Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) threaten the foundations of Wabanaki culture and identity (Right) Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University,, Creative Commons, D-shaped exit holes from emerald ash borer adults.

  • Quarantine

  • Restriction of movement of firewood

  • Collective decision-making of Stakeholders 

  • Meaningful involvement of tribal communities 

  • Long-term storage of Brown/Black Ash 

  • Multi-territorial decentralized approaches

  • Stakeholder involvement (tribal governments, landowners, federal, state and  local agencies, Memorandum of Agreement)

  • Tribal Expertise 

  • Adaptive Planning and Development 

  • Adaptive Planning Dissemination (Community Involvement and Education)

  • Storage, processing and exchange of ash supplies and materials

  • Intergenerational Education of Native youth by elders 

Emerald Ash Borer

Gabriel Frey is a 12th generation Passamaquoddy black ash basketmaker, specializing in utility baskets with a modern approach. Growing up in a basket making family, Frey learned traditional weaving techniques at a young age as well as the importance of self-expression through the traditional basket making art form—a skill he has been honing over the past 22 years. For more information about Gabriel Frey, please visit: or visit his website and Instagram page.

The Ash Protection Collaboration Across Wabanakik (APCAW) is a group of Indigenous and non-indigenous researchers, Tribal members, and forest caretakers working together to bring more awareness of the cultural and ecological significance of ash trees and efforts to conserve them. APCAW continues the initiative set forth by the EAB and Brown Ash Taskforce, which began in the early 2000s to facilitate the collaborative capacity of Wabanaki basketmakers, Tribal Nations, state and federal foresters, and others to prevent, detect, and respond to the EAB.

Tribal communities are becoming increasingly more vulnerable to climate change  combined with the impact of past changes, such as pollution of waterways  and limited access to cultural resources through land appropriation and privatization. There is great urgency to transmit traditional knowledge from the Native elders to the tribal communities about the importance of interrelationship to the ancestors (natural resources).  The significance of carrying that knowledge forward to share with future generations is vital to cultural survival. (Figure 5)

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Source: Adapted, BIA Tribal Comprehensive Climate Change Report, 2017

Other areas of concern by the tribes for culturally significant tree species as a result of increasing temperatures and decreased access include Birch (Betula spp.) and Maple (Acer spp.) used in canoe making as well as basketry and maple syrup production.

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Source: Donald Soctomah

Birch is another culturally-significant tree species. Passamaquoddy Historic Preservation Officer and Tribal Elder Donald Soctomah and his son Don paddling a traditionally-crafted birchbark canoe.

Passing Down Tradition

Forestry has been a major economic indicator for tribal solvency and resiliency for  decades. The identification of multiple factors of environmental changes on forestry  operations included increasing temperatures, especially during winter months, invasive species (emerald ash borer and spruce budworm), uncertainty and unpredictability for the future markets for tribal forestry products, and the long-term economic impacts for tribal forestry products due to ecological impacts of the migration and distribution of important tree species. Extreme precipitation events in the spring make road systems impassable due to muddy conditions for longer periods, delaying the opening up of tribal lands for management purposes and harvesting activities. During the fall, freeze-thaw conditions and extreme precipitation events have also led to muddy conditions and reduced access to logging operations for tribal members. 


Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Freeze-thaw conditions and extreme precipitation events leading to muddy conditions reduce access to logging operations for tribal members.

How is Tribal Forestry Being Impacted

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