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Indigenous ecosystem-based adaptation and community-based ecocultural restoration during rapid climate disruption: Lessons for Western restorationists

By Dennis Martinez A paper presented at the 4th World Conference on Ecological Restoration 20th Annual Meeting of the Society for Ecological Restoration International 2nd Meeting of the Ibero-American and Caribbean Ecological Restoration Network August 23, 2011 Mrida, Yucatan, Mexico

Indigenous peoples, comprising only 5% of the worlds population but occupying 20% of the earths surface and 80% of its biological hotspots, are important to ecosystems far out of proportion to their numbers. They have a good record of adaptation to a variety of climatic events and other changes over millennia, and are still adapting in such vulnerable biomes as semi-arid areas, mountains, sea islands, tropical forests and savannas, the arctic, and boreal forestsyet bear the least responsibility for climate disruption. But adaptation to climate destabilization may be the greatest challenge yet because of the increasingly rapid rate of change and the extremes of size, intensity, and frequency of todays climatic eventsan altogether new kind of climate that is outside of the historical experience of all Indigenous peoples. For example, the annual numbers of weather events that have substantially affected humans has increased from ~ 100 in 1975 to ~ 400 in 2008. Yet despite a long record, for the most part, of sustainability and resilience in difficult and vulnerable places, Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be evicted from their homelands to make way for conservation reserves and denied access to resources and sacred places. And their traditional landcare practices (TLPs), though belatedly given a measure of 1

respect by a small minority of scientists, are mostly still ignored. While the theme of this conference and the Mission Statement of the Society for Ecological Restoration International (SERI)a statement I helped craft in 1991 as a SER Board memberis reestablishing the link or relationship between nature and culture, traditional Indigenous cultures that have never severed that link are still not recognized for their longstanding and important place in nature indeed their keystone role in ecosystem dynamics. Whenever a keystone species, structure, or process is removed from an ecosystem, unanticipated cascading ecological events can occur, pushing ecosystems over potentially irreversible thresholds or tipping points that can flip them to novel states outside of the historical range of variabilityleaving them even more vulnerable to rapid climate disruption. This is already occurring. For example, the repeated catastrophic wildfires that are currently happening on several continents following the forced cessation of Indigenous prescribed burningburning that kept fuel levels low enough to prevent the huge conflagrations we see noware changing the structure, composition, and function of ecosystems everywhere on earth. The 2004 SER International Primer recognizes cultural landscapes [thanks to advocacy by Eric Higgs and me in 1996 as co-chairs of SERs Science and Policy Working Group] but contrasts them with natural landscapes that are self-organizing and self-maintaining. But whether Indigenous peoples are still in their original territories or are gone, the land bears the historical imprint of a long co-evolutionary relationship with Native caregivers. European settlement patterns were superimposed on a cultural, not a natural, landscape. Except for parts of the arctic, the highest mountain ranges, extremely arid deserts, and African equatorial forests that are purely self-organizing, most biomes where Indigenous peoples have lived for millennia are a mix of autogenic processes and ecologically competent human interventionsto such a degree in many ecosystems that Indigenous peoples could be accurately described as natureindeed are nature. And that includes most of this hemisphere. A growing minority of Western scientists over the past 15 or 20 years, however, are beginning to realize the value of Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in assisting Western researchers who need to fill in large data gaps for local places. Observational approaches to data collection are now understood to be as important as experimental approaches. 2

There are just too many environmental variables and too few researchers. Theoretical constructs based on limited numbers of experimental sites have been extrapolated out of proportion to observational verification. As the Ecological Society of America writes in the October, 2010, issue of Frontiers in Ecology: Spatially explicit local knowledge is particularly important for identification of thresholds or tipping pointsnative peoples have intimate knowledge of spatial and temporal variabilities as observable indicators, which when combined with a scientific understanding of properties and processes that control ecological potential, can be used to develop reliable descriptions of reference conditions for assessments and ecological indicators. Local and traditional ecological knowledge based on qualitative observational approaches and Western experimental and quantitative approaches are being seen as complementary. As climate disruption continues to impact ecosystems and cultures at multiple spatial and temporal scales, observational data on sites that are not easily manipulated experimentally are becoming critically important. There is a real possibility of climate disruption exacerbating already degraded ecosystems, causing them to cross thresholds well before we are aware of it happening. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research bears directly on what we call ecosystem-based adaptation to rapid climate destabilization. [Ecosystem-based adaptation is a term that originated with Preston Hardison of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State.] Adaptation would still be necessary for at least decades to come even if emissions stopped today. Ecosystem-based adaptation requires eco or biocultural interventions that assist ecosystems to adapt. Because of species range shifts due to global warming, many restoration ecologists are now looking at building in resilience to change by creating designer non-analog systems composed of novel assemblages of species they hope will be adapted to warmer, more extreme conditions. Assisted species migrations are also being discussed. Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, are rooted in place and cannot migrate with displaced species, afford expensive assisted migration even if they have territories large enough to do so, or create non-analog ecosystems. Many species are culturally importantsome the basis for their very identity as Indigenous peoples, e.g. The Salmon Peoples of Pacific North 3

America; or a number of medicinal, food, fiber, and sacred plant species and animal habitat that are irreplaceable. There may be a time in the future when alternative resources will have to be found, as has happened in the past. But it is about buying time with which to plan intelligently for the future instead of having to do so by default. If we consider the current very limited experimental knowledge about non-analog systemsbased so far mostly on a few simulated aquatic system experiments and models and little real world researchwhile also considering the iffy nature of predicting how our more generalized understanding of climate change will play out in any given placeI believe that the global restoration community must be willing to keep other options open. For example, assisted species regeneration and subsequent enhancement by controlled propagation of plant populations below the species levelsubspecies, populations, and Indigenous-developed heirloom crop varietiesthat show exceptional adaptation already to extreme or hot sites and drought, including populations that continue to flower at their usual times and not earlierdue to earlier spring warmingso that pollinators and seed-carriers continue to visit them at their usual times. A good example of assisted regeneration comes from Potato Park, Peru, where local communities have reversed the effects of increasingly warming temperatures that had been forcing farmers to plant further and further up in elevation. Although potatoes prefer cool growing conditions, local Indigenous farmers found varieties that would grow well in warmer weather and are now planting them at lower elevations. Ecocultural restoration is the primary building block for ecosystem-based adaptation. [I and a few others began using the term ecocultural restoration in the early 1990s.] It can be defined as: The process of recovering as much as is recoverable of the key historic precontact ecosystem structure, composition, processes, and function, along with traditional, time-tested, ecologically appropriate and sustainable Indigenous cultural practices that helped shape ecosystems, while simultaneously building-in resilience to future rapid climate disruptions and other environmental changes in order to maintain ecological integrity in a way that ensures the survival of both Indigenous ecosystems and cultures. Ecocultural restoration is distinguished from ecological restoration by its additional focus on culturally important species while also taking care of the non-cultural communities that the cultural plants are associated with; and the 4

use of traditional landcare practices like prescribed burning, selective harvesting, micrositetargeted agroecology, and agroforestry through selective cutting and replanting. The foundational assumption of ecosystem-based adaptation is that the more of key preindustrial landscape structure, composition and processes one can conceptually reconstruct, the more certain that ecological integrity i.e. ecologically intact ecosystems with all the key components of structure, composition, and function in placewill be restored. [Of course, some ecosystems have been so degraded or destroyed that this will be exceedingly difficult or impossible to do. Nevertheless, it is possible with many others.] The more ecological integrity restored, the better able ecosystems will be to absorb and adapt to climate disruptioni.e., the more resilient to change. A key component of ecosystem-based adaptation is genetic diversity. Large and diverse gene pools are restored or maintained by ensuring maximum habitat heterogeneity across the landscape, providing sufficient microsites that could be both adaptation nurseries and climate refugia at the subspecies or population levels during further climate destabilization. Existing ecological degradation will be exacerbated by climate disruption, which in turn will amplify both the effects of climate disruption as well as climate itselfa positive feedback loop that will reinforce and exponentially intensify all cumulative climate effects still further. If this progresses to a certain but still largely unknown point, irreversible thresholds may be crossed. What is too often left out of restoration planning as theoreticians and armchair restorationists scramble to leave history behind and embrace untested non-analog systemsis good baseline information about pre-industrial environmental conditions. I am not claiming that we can ever restore all of the complexity of ecosystems once they are gone. I am claiming that we should strive to recover as much of the key historic ecological elements of structure, composition, and function as are recoverable, removing barriers and setting trajectories that both autogenic processes and human interventions will continue over time. We are not attempting to set the historical clock back; rather we are re-setting the evolutionary clockallowing evolutionary processes to operate at a rate sufficient for species to adapt to changing 5

environmental conditions. We are balancing historical fidelity with ecological function, integrity, and resilience. But our historical reconstruction work must be balanced with assisted species regeneration and enhancement in order to build in resilience. And assisted species regeneration will work best if maximum genetic diversity is ensured through the restoration of landscape heterogeneitythe maintenance or restoration of micro-sites where more climate adapted subspecies and populations can be in-situ nurseries for future propagation and climate refugia for future recolonization. That is, the restoration of climate refugial capacity will strengthen ecosystem-based adaptation. In focusing on generalized climate destabilization, we can easily forget the innumerable microsites available for adapted populationssites that Indigenous caregivers know well. The field of historical ecology employs a variety of indirect or proxy and direct techniques to conceptually reconstruct historical reference ecosystems. Although our reference model will have to be modified by present changed conditions, the model will steer us in the right direction. We can avoid the phenomenon of shifting baselinesthe proverbial death by a thousand cutsthe process over time of getting used to present environmental conditions and forgetting original longterm historical conditions with roughly the same historic climatic regime. The traditional landcare practices of Indigenous peoples, as keystone players in ecosystem dynamics and as an integral part of nature, cannot be left out of historical reconstructions. Indeed, advocates of non-analog creation totally leave out Indigenous peoples as do most mainstream restorationists. Indigenous peoples should be viewed as alternative modernities as relevant to meeting todays climate and environmental challenges as any modern Western culture, and in many cases, probably more so. Adaptability and resilience define Indigeneity. It defines TEK as well. That is why we are in a Special Session that includes a few Indigenous participants but also includes mostly Western restorationists. That is, Indigenous cultural practices and knowledge do not stand apart from restoration theory and practice; they need to be recognized as competent contributions to mainstream restoration. Indigenous peoples are collaborating with Western researchers in the Arctic, northern Australia, Latin America, and other parts of the world. Indigenous peoples must have parity with Western scientistsmutual trust and respectrespect for Indigenous ethical protocols, 6

intellectual property and knowledge. Western science can be a useful quantitative tool when it is needed or as a common language in cross-cultural communication. In the community climate assessment and adaption work that the Indigenous peoples Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA), based in Cuzco, Peru, is doing in nine countries, we encourage both the use of traditional knowledge and Western science in a complementary way when necessary. I serve on the IPCCA Steering Committee for Pacific North Americafrom the Klamath Mts. of nw California where I live and nw Nevada to Haida Gwaii in nw British Columbiaencompassing two biomes: the moist Pacific coast, coastal mountains, and coastal islands; and the semi-arid interior continental Great Basin/Shrub-Steppe high desert. Our mission is to empower Indigenous communities to develop and use their own ecocultural realities and knowledge to assess the effects of climate disruption; the development and implementation of response options for building Indigenous resilience and buen vivir or wellbeing, and adaptive strategies to mitigate climate disruption impacts by enhancing ecocultural diversity for food sovereignty, security, and self-determined development. The IPCCA Initiative allows three parallel Indigenous-led processes to support selfdetermination through producing practical local adaptation strategies at the local, national, and international scales: (1) A global initiative through community partnerships; (2) global assessment based on community knowledge; and (3) bringing the local and global approaches together to understand the localized effects and responses and coordinate a synthesis into relevant policy to influence key international policy responses. My community visits in Pacific North America revealed numerous worrying impacts of climate disruption. A partial list includes: Higher average temperatures and less precipitation causing droughts and loss of Increasingly frequent and intense wildfires Loss of cultural plants, animals, birds, and fisheries 7 both subsurface and surface water quantity and quality

Loss of TEK and the ability to accurately predict weather, especially mid and Loss of biodiversity Invasive plants, animals, and insects and the subsequent loss of native plant Soil erosion and subsequent sedimentation of salmon spawning gravels Increase of forest diseases and insect pests like bark beetles and increase of their Shorter and warmer winters with increasingly earlier snowmelt driving more Glacial melt, a major driver of water and fisheries loss More rain than snow Predator-prey imbalances Loss of riparian vegetation Ocean acidification and loss of shellfish Storm-driven tidal surges that are already inundating low-lying areas on the coast Loss of the historic temporal synchronicity between available fresh water and

long term forecasts


regeneration cycles because of shorter winters and longer warmer periods frequent and intense flood events

anadromous fish returning from the ocean to their natal spawning streams [salmon are arriving at the usual times but water is arriving two months earlier] habitat Increased in respiratory diseases from dust storms as vegetation disappears from The resultant compromise of ecological integrity and depredation of ecosystem growing desertification in the high desert biome. function, e.g. the geobiochemical [carbon and nutrient retention and cycling], hydrological cycles, etc. Loss of watershed moisture-holding capacity due to loss of old-growth trees and Increases in rare and endangered plants and animals Loss of wetlands and their pollutant-filtering capacity and other services; and surface litter, and soil compaction from industrial logging

There are a number of human factors extrinsic to climate destabilization that act as indirect drivers that interact with and exacerbate already existing environmental degradation amplifying it and in turn directly intensifying climate disruption itself while negatively impacting community adaptive capacity, resilience, and buen vivir. They include everything from industrial-scale resource extraction to overgrazing to fire suppression policies to modern agribusiness monocultures to excess groundwater pumping driven by population growth to loss of ancestral lands and lack of access to cultural and natural resourcesand the poverty and social malaise that follow dispossession and marginalizationto government assimilation policies to loss of traditional knowledge and ceremonies songs, stories, and dances. I will take one such indirect drivergovernment fire suppression policiesand show the cascading chains of cause-and-effect as this policy impacts cultures and ecology in much of North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Indigenous peoples have a positive narrative regarding traditional low-severity, frequent prescribed or intentional fire, including controversial swidden burning in tropical regions [and once practiced in eastern North America]. An example in this region is the traditional Mayan burning of milpas or garden type agroecology and agroforestry that historically contributed to bountiful and diverse cultural crops and increased biodiversity in the forestincluding fruit and nut trees, medicinal plants, and animal habitatas small patches were cleared in the forest and burned in an anywhere from a 15 to 80 year rotational cycle before beginning againthe 2 or so year short cropping and long fallow cycles of true swidden farming with five fallow plots for every farmed one at the landscape level. Fallow periods are now significantly reduced for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the loss of ancestral forest lands to usurpation by the Mexican government for logging leases followed by inexperienced mestizo settlers coming in on former logging haul roads. . [Extensive deforestation in the Yucatn is once again creating the environmental conditions that Jared Diamond wrote about with respect to the Classic Mayan collapse of the 8th 9

centurythe obliteration of a resilient landscape of repeating and balanced mosaics of forest and farm that has enabled the Yucatn to maintain its ecological integrity, including the original species composition, for over 3000 years (Gmez-Pompa et al, 2003).]

An unfortunate feature of the Western scientific mind is the tendency to minimize or dismiss what they do not understand or are culturallynot empiricallybiased against. Indigenous peoples recognize the cleansing and rejuvenating effects of fireits positive role in renewing the earth and maintaining high levels of biodiversity and cultural species. This is in contrast to European settler societies that fear all wildland fire. Our recent history of increasingly frequent and severe wildland fires is a result of fire suppression policies and removal of Indigenous fire expertsexacerbating global warming. As average temperatures increase and precipitation decreases, we now see shorter and warmer winters with earlier springs and longer fire seasons. In temperate Pacific North America, bark beetles that are killing millions of conifer trees from Mexico to Alaska now have more time to reproduce additional generations and cause more tree mortality. Longer warm periods dry forest live and dead fuels earlier, increasing the likelihood of more wildfires. Catastrophic wildfires are responsible for many environmental, economic, and cultural problems, including hydrophobic soils that resist water infiltration, diminishing precipitation and groundwater recharge and drying springs and streams; erosion that clogs salmon spawning gravels with sediment, diminishing salmon reproduction and widening stream channels while raising streambed levels to the point where riparian vegetation, that provides shading for fish in hot weather, is lost during intense flood events resulting from earlier snow and glacier melt; a loss of animal habitat and cultural plants that, together with the loss of salmon and other aquatic species, conspire to rob communities of nutritious wild foods and impacting individual health and community buen vivir. Besides government fire suppression policiesother indirect driversand many I did not mentiondirect drivers like wildfires amplify global warming by releasing enormous amounts 10

of CO2, methane [25 times more potent than CO2], nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases. Increased warming in turn increases fire hazard and risk, and on in a positive feedback loop that exponentially accelerates all of these cumulative effects in an ever-widening and deepening spiral of environmental and cultural degradation and loss of resilience and buen vivir.

The Indigenous view of ecocultural restoration in the context of traditional burning is that the responsibility of renewing the earth with fire and other traditional landcare practices never ends. Restoration never ends. No division exists, as in the SER Primer, between restoration and follow-up maintenance, believing, as most do, that autogenic processes relieve us of our responsibility to continually intervene. Given todays incredibly high fuel levels in Pacific North America, self-organizing processes are not sufficient by themselves to reduce the severity and frequency of wildfireseven in regions where lightening-ignited fires are common. Experienced human intervention will always be requiredand must be done intergenerationally. To those that echo the Kyoto and Copenhagen Protocols by saying that all fires contribute greenhouse gases [GHGs] to global warming, I say that this position reflects shorterm thinking. In the longterm, despite initial loss of CO2 to the atmosphere, more will be sequestered than lost over time because of the stimulating effects on vegetation growth with the appropriate kind of burningtraditional frequent low-severity burning. In my biome in Pacific North America, the prevention of conflagrations by these cool burns protects both secondary and primary forests mature and old-growth trees that hold massive amounts of carbon but are not eligible for market carbon trading because they grow too slow and are too messy, not easily measured for carbon. I am not advocating for a carbon market for Indigenous peoples. I believe Indigenous peoples should be compensated for their protection of forests and savannas from severe wildfires for millenniaas President Lula did in the Brazilian Amazon and as northern Australian Aboriginal peoples are compensated now by the government. REDD+, the UN scheme for protecting forests in the South, is a bad policy for Indigenous peoples for a lot of reasonsone of the most important of which is that it is top-down, devised in the North without the consultation with local


people, and with negative impacts for livelihoods, cultures, and the environment. And it commodifies nature. I have talked about the potential for complementarity between Indigenous and Western ways of knowing in meeting the challenge of rapid climate disruption through ecocultural restoration and ecosystem-based adaptation, and how there are increasing mutually respectful collaborations in the field between Western researchers and Native experts. This is not a marriage. It is a working relationship on an as-needed basis, with Indigenous peoples retaining the prerogative to say No as they see fit. For example, Western fire ecologists are still a long way behind traditional Native burners. I know this because that is what I do at home. In both Pacific North America and Australiawhere I have heard similar storiesNational Park prescription fire rangers are still very inexperienced compared with their Native counterparts. An unfortunate feature of the Western scientific mind is the tendency to minimize or dismiss what they do not understand or are culturallynot empiricallybiased against. Reciprocity is an important Indigenous principle and is practiced universally. Indigenous peoples are willing to collaborate and share that portion of their knowledge that they choose to share. Western restorationists need to reciprocate instead of cheery-picking those parts of TEK that they think are important for their own needs. Instead of taking knowledge out of its cultural context, they should try to understand that the source of that knowledge lies in a fragile library of oral tradition that comes from countless generations of practice in particular places and depends on the survival of Indigenous culturesnot scientific papers and books. We ask support for Indigenous cultural survival by supporting their access to cultural and natural resources, protection from States that marginalize them and are evicting communities from their ancestral homelands to make way for conservation reserves and parks, mistakenly believingand it is a dogmatic and uninformed beliefthat natural autogenic processes are all that is needed. Restoration ecology must move beyond its present ideological fixation on a purely autogenic nature and embrace a natural world that in large part includesand has always included Indigenous cultural practices like intentional burning, and reestablish the relationship between culture and nature for our mutual survival and wellbeing. 12

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