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Wild Berries

The Wild Berry Project (2015) was initiated to assess the status of the wild American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) in Indian Township, located near the small town of Princeton, Washington County, Maine (See Figure 6).  Surrounding Passamaquoddy tribal territories there are numerous tributaries and water trails that connect Big Lake, Lewey Lake and Grand Lake. These areas contain sphagnum bogs which are prime habitat for wild cranberry, wild blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry, which are culturally significant food and medicine sources during spring, summer and fall.  Depending on the season, maturity of the plant, and intended uses including food, medicine, life’s teachings and ceremony, different parts of the plant are harvested and prepared.

Source: Donald Soctomah, Blueberry barrens surrounding Indian Township in Washington County, Maine. 


Climate Change indicators for the wild berries described by traditional harvesters in 2015 include a loss of habitat due to shading from increased canopy cover and weed pressure, loss of traditional harvesting sites due to development, lack of controlled burns, extreme precipitation, lack of adequate snow cover, increasing freeze/thaw conditions, invasive insects, runoff, pollution, and pesticide spray on power transmission corridors.  These factors are accompanied by the decline of knowledge transfer and language due to the loss of  harvesting practices and traditional values.  Warm springs and warmer fall temperatures  can decrease berry yield and the storage qualities of cranberries. Overgrowth in weeds and brush create competition and decreased yields by shading out the cranberry plants which require full sun to thrive, and potentially shading the sphagnum moss which creates the necessary acidic pH requirements for optimal cranberry growth. 


Furthermore, excess precipitation in the Northeast due to climate change can interfere with pollination, and early frost and icy conditions can lead to damage of the flowering  
buds. Climate change will challenge the habitat and seasonal development of these important food-medicines, the local ecology that supports them, and the opportunity for traditional knowledge transfer. 

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Source: Figure 6. Steve Underwood. Big Musquash Stream, is part of an extensive waterway connecting Big Lake, Lewey Lake and Grand Lake to the East Branch of the Saint Croix river. The associated sphagnum bogs are prime habitat for wild cranberry, wild blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry, all culturally significant food and medicine.

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