Editor’s note: National Park Service policy for use of the best available science and the integration of traditional ecological knowledge in natural resource management are discussed in NPS Management Policies 2006, particularly at sections 4.1, 4.2.1, 5.1.1, and 5.2.
Not long ago in a remote grassland, a group of tribal elders, accompanied by a national park fire chief, botanist, and resource chief, gave a short prayer before setting fire to the meadow to help restore native vegetation and fight off invasive species. This fire was started and maintained with traditional methods, the same methods used by the tribe long before the designation of the park, or even the National Park Service. In another park unit more than 1,000 miles (1,609 km) away, selected park employees slog through a swamp, treading on Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia), a flowering plant also known as Indian potato that grows in shallow wetlands. To the uninformed spectator this act might seem ambiguous at best, but this activity is thousands of years old. Local tribal women shared the method with park employees to help propagate Wapato, now a threatened species in the park.
These two restoration projects are part of the National Park Service’s attempts to integrate traditional ecological knowledge to improve natural resource management. This research investigates the status and perceptions of TEK, an emerging and, we believe, underused source of knowledge that can help managers maintain natural resources and engage in meaningful tribal partnerships, especially in park units with a long history of tribal affiliation.
Henn, M., D. M. Ostergren, and E. Nielsen. 2011. Research Report: Integrating traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) into natural resource management: Perspectives and projects within western U.S. national parks. Park Science 27(3):54–61.
Available at https://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience27(3)Winter2010-2011_54-61_Henn_et_al_2763.pdf.