Forest social scientist, environmental historian shares insights into tribal partnerships for healthy forests

Aerial view of forest trees
An aerial view of conifers and aspens in a western tribal nation forest. A new WSU co-authored report shares how tribal and agency partners can collaborate to restore social-ecological resilience of forests.

Michelle Steen-Adams, research associate in the School of the Environment, shared insights on how scientists at agencies and tribal nations can work together on discoveries that help forests of the western U.S. survive fire, climate change, and other challenges.

Her work appears in a newly released General Technical Report by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, “Partnering in Research About Land Management with Tribal Nations— Insights from the Pacific West.”

Working with USDA Forest Service scientists Frank Lake and Linda Kruger, as well as Chas Jones, Jr., program director for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians‘ Climate Resilience Program, Steen-Adams, a former Forest Service visiting scientist, helped bring together ideas from literature and research with tribal nations in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Resulting from more than a decade of effort, their report explores the challenges and benefits of partnerships, effective practices, and models, as well as the partnership-building process.

“Tribal partnerships require distinct adaptive actions,” said Lake, research ecologist and tribal liaison for the Pacific Southwest Research Station. “These findings may assist scientists and land managers in forging and maintaining effective, productive partnerships with tribal nations and indigenous communities.”

Michelle Steen-Adams
Michelle Steen-Adams

“In forging effective partnerships with tribal nations, it’s important to recognize the partnership process: identifying mutual goals, listening, adapting to the tribal governmental and community context, and giving back — a process that requires trust, respect, and time to develop,” Steen-Adams said.

In the report, she drew on 15 years of work with tribal nations, intertribal organizations, and the Forest Service, including studies on traditional knowledge of fire use, cross-organizational cooperation, and a study of the historical ecology of forests of the Bad River Indian reservation, among other projects.

“Challenges will arise, and prospective partners should familiarize themselves with the basics of federal Indian law, knowledge sovereignty, and tribal partners’ distinct history, government, culture, and natural resources,” Steen-Adams said. “We hope this report provides a foundation along this learning journey.”

The report was supported by the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior-U.S. Geological Survey’s Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center.

View and download the technical review here.