Indigenous peoples improved nature through “food forestry”

Indigenous peoples improved nature through "food forestry"

For hundreds of years, indigenous tribes cleared small patches of forests in the middle of the dense coniferous forests of what is now British Columbia. There they planted and harvested food crops as well as trees and plants with medicinal properties, including species brought in from hundreds of miles away. Their “food forests” yielded an abundance of nuts, fruits and berries. European settlers decimated the indigenous tribes due to multiple waves of European disease in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and their lush and versatile food forests became obscure.

A few years ago, Chelsea Giralda Armstrong, an ethnic botanist at Simon Fraser University, received a call from First Nations elders to investigate why so many hazelnut trees grow in deserted villages along the coast. The trees thrived far from their natural habitat (in drier inland areas) and looked out of place among the towering cedar trees and hemlock sprouts. Armstrong suspected she was dealing with an ecosystem created by human hands and saw that it was still thriving without any outside maintenance. When she presented her doubts to the elderly, she reported that their ancestors had grown edible and medicinal plants in the forests.

Armstrong brought together a group of colleagues to conduct further research into the “food forest” environment. In a new study published this week in the journal Ecology and Society, Her team makes a fascinating find: After being abandoned for more than a century, the Native American food forests of the Pacific Northwest are still better at attracting pollinators and seed-eating animals, and they’re richer in species than the natural coniferous forests that make them. To be surrounded.

“When we examined these food forests, it turns out that they are actually doing better than nature, making them more resilient and showing more biodiversity. Oh yeah, they’ve also provided food for people,” Armstrong says.

The new study may be the first to thoroughly examine how “functional diversity” (to what extent an ecosystem produces beneficial crops) can be increased to a piece of forest using local methods. The research follows a series of scientific publications showing that indigenous peoples – past and present – are often better at using land at conserving biodiversity, storing carbon, and generating other environmental services from government agencies and environmental organizations. Additionally, scientists are discovering that it is not always better to “leave nature alone” and that the original managers of a particular landscape often know better how that landscape thrives.

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This was said by the indigenous people themselves a long time ago. But the indigenous tribes that once lived in these forests and other ecosystems and helped shape them have found little response from Western scientists. More and more academics are now questioning this approach, and calling for a review of environmental and conservation methods – a review that some say is long overdue.

This was said by the indigenous people themselves a long time ago. But the indigenous tribes that once lived in these forests and other ecosystems and helped shape them have found little response from Western scientists. More and more academics are now questioning this approach, and calling for a review of environmental and conservation methods – a review that some say is long overdue.

Listen to people

The patches of woodland Armstrong studied provided indigenous villages with food and medicine, including from plants brought in from afar. “Traditionally, it was very important to have all possible resources in one place,” said Willie Charlie, the former president of Sts’ailes Nation, a group of Coastal Salish, which is now a member of this community. “If you had all of that in your family, you were almost self-sufficient.”

Armstrong and her team surveyed 12 food forests in southern and central British Columbia, each covering between 100 square meters (the size of a tennis court) and one kilometer (the size of a village). These plantation forest areas are open and sunny areas amidst dense and shady coniferous forests that also abound with trees and deciduous shrubs.

The researchers identified rectangular areas in both food forests and adjacent forests, and then counted the number of plant species within the regions, recorded how they pollinated, and looked at the seeds they produced and other factors.

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Compared to surrounding forests, food forests contain about 1.3 times the number of plant species and 1.5 times the number of plants whose seeds were dispersed by animals. Plants in food forests produced seeds that were on average twice the size of those in parts of the forest, so that food forests provided much food for the animals – and thus had higher functional diversity. Hazelnuts, fruit-bearing shrubs such as cranberries and elderberry, and edible shrub plants such as mansoor and cedar lily all thrive better in the food forest than in the surrounding coniferous forests, which, due to the abundance of conifers, produce less food. Humans and animals.

“Functional diversity is now a hot topic in ecology,” Miller says. Many ecologists consider it a better measure of the health and resilience of an ecosystem than simply counting the number of species, a method used in traditional biometrics. Miller and Armstrong suspect resilience is the reason why food forests are maintained so long without any outside maintenance.

The anomalous data from food forest patches also seem to indicate something of great importance to the indigenous tribes who lived there. The sages told Armstrong that food forests fed more animals than the surrounding forest because they knew they were “the best places to hunt” due to the abundance of hunting.

Tony Marks Block, an anthropologist from California State University in East Bay who was not involved in the new study, said the study found that “humans are an important part of the environment.” Therefore, excluding people is not good for the country’s recovery. “

According to Armstrong, publishing the study is only a first step in reviving First Nations crop farming practices. “The goal is to start applying what we’ve learned now so that we can restore these types of food forests,” and help indigenous communities to reuse them, she says.

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To this end, Charlie is building forest paths to food forests and trying to get villagers (especially young people) involved in reusing and conserving these pieces of forests. And according to him, studies like Armstrong’s could contribute to this.

“Old people don’t believe a thing until they hear it from someone, and young people don’t believe a thing until they see it in black and white,” he says.

Perfecting pristine nature?

The gap between indigenous knowledge and Western science has a long history. By the time ecology became an academic discipline in the early nineteenth century, European settlers around the world had displaced many indigenous tribes from their native lands. So these landscapes are often interpreted as “natural” and “untouched” when in fact they have been carefully managed by the locals for a long time.

Wiping out the traditional land use of indigenous peoples was in line with the “castle conservation” approach, meaning that a nature reserve could only be protected if people were excluded from that ecosystem. A well-known example of this is Yosemite National Park, which was formed in part by the expulsion of indigenous people.

In the environmental movement we have a strong tendency to be “human.” [door mensenhanden gecreëerd] To be synonymous with something bad, ”Miller says.“ We often ignore Native American landscape management. ”

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Native American groups in the United States resisted a measure of self-determination, many of these communities believed they had the right to administer the land on which they once lived according to traditional methods.

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