Rivercane is a native relative of bamboo, and for many Tribes in the southeastern U.S., it is a source of identity, cultural continuity. Rivercane ecosystems, called canebrakes, have important ecological roles in maintaining water quality and reducing sediment runoff.
Canebrakes currently occupy 2% of their historic range, making them an endangered ecosystem. Tribes in the Southeast indicate an urgent need for more information on rivercane ecosystems and more access to canebrakes. Through a USDA Forest Service Citizen Science Grant, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) and USDA Forest Service researchers are developing strategies for mapping rivercane stands in the southeastern United States.
Community scientists are testing a smartphone app called iNaturalist for mapping and collecting ecological rivercane data. Eventually, these data can be collected across the Southeast. In February 2020 a mapping pilot event took place on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, part of UKB homelands. Tribal artisans harvested rivercane and shared traditional ecological knowledge – such as methods for processing rivercane to use in basketry, blow guns, and arrows – with UKB youth and national forest staff.
The approaches this effort is developing could lead to the first regional map on rivercane ecosystems. The effort is also collaboratively generating research questions on rivercane ecology and management that are meaningful to USDA Forest Service scientists and managers, UKB, and other southeastern tribes.