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Station director highlights importance of traditional knowledge

Visitors to the the North Fork Indian Creek, Palisades District can find Greene’s mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) and thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) ablaze in the fall on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest as shown in this September 2005 image. (U.S. Forest Service)

Southern Research Station Director Robert Doudrick shared traditional
knowledge with participants during a North Carolina Museum of Natural
Sciences’ science café. (U.S. Forest Service/ Perdita B. Spriggs)

Posted by Perdita B. Spriggs, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, U.S. Forest Service

Forest health is necessary for life, but the nation’s forested lands are slowly disappearing. How can we sustain our nation’s forests and their numerous benefits? We can use all available knowledge, both Western and traditional, to understand and address forest management issues.

“You can learn from living on the land for centuries,” said Southern Research Station Director Robert L. Doudrick during his recent talk on “Listening to the Land and Honoring Traditional Knowledge” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ science café in Raleigh, N.C. “Native communities see so many meanings in—and uses from—the natural landscape, understanding its resources in ways that western society just can’t imagine.”

Traditional ecological knowledge, known as TEK, originated with Native American and indigenous communities as a result of living intimately with the land for thousands of years. This special relationship with the environment can serve as a foundation for long-term forest management, connecting ecological, social, spiritual, and economic understanding to forest sustainability.

Doudrick shared cultural items from his personal collection and compared and contrasted traditional knowledge with modern science. “Many foods, medicines, and other products have a Native American origin,” he said. “Aspirin is derived from willow bark, which native communities were using long before tablets and plastic bottles were created.” Doudrick added, “A couple of the most prized non-timber forest products, black cohosh and ginseng, were cultivated and cherished by Native Americans.”

His takeaway message reminded the audience that “forests are absolutely essential for our survival” and encouraged them to “use everything, use it wisely, and cherish the landscape and the relationships you have with it.”

The café supported the station's partnership with the museum's Nature Research Center to share forest science with diverse audiences. Please watch Doudrick's science café on the museum's website.

US Forest Service
Last modified November 13, 2013

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