Native peoples throughout the northern hemisphere have made use of the nutritious inner bark of pine trees. Bark-peeling creates distinctive scars on trees, a permanent indicator of this cultural modification. Like any historical artifact, laws and regulations protect these culturally modified trees (CMTs).
There are many bark-peeled ponderosa pine trees on the Bitterroot NF in Montana on known historic trails and campgrounds used by Native Americans. We wanted to understand the history of use of these CMTs and to do that researchers typically remove small wood cores and partial cross-sections and examine scars in the tree rings. Because the trees we wanted to study were located in the Salish Tribe’s traditional use area, the scientists and BNF forest historian discussed the proposed work with Tribal officials and Elders. The Elders were uncomfortable with the proposed methods, and asked us not to invasively sample the peeled trees, living or dead. In response, scientists were able to alter the methodology to a non-invasive approach, reducing precision of the research but respecting the wishes of the Tribe. We found that these historic campgrounds contained an unusually high density of bark-peeled trees compared to those reported elsewhere. Similar to other ponderosa pine forests, with fire exclusion in the last century, there are more trees per acre now, making the bark-peeled trees more susceptible to bark beetle outbreak and wildfire.
The approach we used provides a model for those proposing activities directly affecting similar artifacts in Tribal traditional use areas. The resulting information was developed in a manner respectful to the Tribal Elders’ wishes while still achieving most goals of the study.