Combining Indigenous and Western Science Approaches to Restore Grassy Balds in the San Juan Archipelago, Washington State

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Sarah Wheatley

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The Samish Indian Nation Department of Natural Resources works with Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Skagit Land Trust, Washington Conservation Corps, and Samish Tribal citizens to restore grassy bald ecosystems in the San Juan Islands. Grassy balds and prairies are rare in western Washington due to early conversion to European agriculture; the remaining sites are threatened by conifer encroachment due to lack of maintenance by clearing and burning. With Samish culture and Indigenous science as a guide, this project quantifies the ecological integrity of these ecosystems and uses the data to inform strategic restoration. We used the Ecological Integrity Assessment (EIA) format, which consists of three “levels” designed to help prioritize restoration efforts where they are most likely to succeed. First, remote sensing is used to locate areas of interest. Second, a rapid assessment is performed in each identified area to determine broad-scale characteristics. Using data from this rapid assessment, areas with the best potential for restoration are chosen. Third, these areas are assessed using a detailed, quantitative method appropriate to the ecosystem. For each bald selected using the EIA method, we created and followed a site-specific restoration plan. Early monitoring shows success in each restored site. Plans for continued restoration and research include post-restoration monitoring; expansion to other balds and prairies; and sharing knowledge back to the greater Samish community and partners. This project demonstrates that the use of scalable, practical, standardized research methods, Indigenous management priorities, and interagency collaboration can lead to successful restoration of imperiled ecosystems.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program