Mobilizing Diverse Interests to Address Invasive Species Threats to Coupled Natural/Human Systems: The Case of the Emerald Ash Borer in Maine
- Molly Lizotte, graduate student
- Erin Quigley, graduate student
The goal of this project is to study and facilitate the ways that Wabanaki (translated, the people of the dawn) basketmakers, tribes, state and federal foresters, various university researchers, landowners and others come together to prevent, detect, and respond to the emerald ash borer (EAB), a potentially devastating invasive threat to all three species of ash trees found in Maine. The EAB has moved from Michigan (where it was first detected in 2002) east to New York, where it was found just this past Spring.
The economic damage resulting from this invasive species is enormous. For example, the State of Ohio recently estimated costs at roughly $3 billion over the next 10 years. As with other invasive ecological threats, multiple scales and ways of comprehending the problem must be brought to the table in order to address it. Therefore, a key goal of our research will be to help tribal, state, and federal regulators work together to manage for this and other potential impacts on the resource, so that Maine and Wabanaki people will not lose this valuable economic and cultural resource.
As a team of social science researchers and stakeholder experts, we have come together to study and facilitate the linkage of knowledge-to-action in Maine around this invasive threat. As such, our group is facilitating a process that we believe “links knowledge and action for sustainability” (van Kerkhoff and Lebel 2006: 466) while at the same time studying how different groups come together to address a common invasive species threat. Therefore, our approach pairs social science research methods with explicit knowledge-to-action integration. Moreover, as our knowledge-to-action work progresses beyond year one and we include more science stakeholders as partners in our research, we believe our work will develop into high integration methods linking social-ecological-systems (SES) with a clear knowledge-toaction orientation.
Our research and approach to facilitate action in response to an invasive threat arises from the following critical and supportable assumptions:
1. Our research and stakeholder engagement, centered on brown ash (Fraxinus nigra), began with, and is centered on, Wabanaki people, communities, and governments. The brown ash, historically thought of as a “weed” species among many foresters, is a cultural keystone species for Wabanaki peoples (cf. Girabaldi and Turner 2004), and as such serves critical roles in the social, cultural and economic spheres of contemporary Wabanaki life. Like many keystone species, the cultural importance of the species is reflected in Wabanaki origin stories, wherein it is said that Gluskabe, the Wabanaki trickster hero, shot an arrow into the basket tree and thus gave rise to the first people brought into this world. Given this spiritual context, there is no substitute for the ash in Wabanaki culture. Moreover, baskets made of brown ash are the oldest art form in all of New England, and represent an original“green,” value-added and sustainable forest product.
The potential loss of this tree and the associated basketry tradition would have deep economic ($150,000 of ash basketry sales/year), cultural and spiritual effects on tribal communities in Maine, with many tribal household incomes partially dependent upon this resource (Daigle and Putnam 2009). More than 95% of tribal basketmakers in Maine live on reservations in Aroostook, Penobscot and Washington Counties—many at or below the poverty level. Therefore, we have begun our research and stakeholder work with the communities we believe have the most to lose if this invasive species has devastating effects, as is the case in the State of Michigan.
2. We believe that collaborating knowledge and joining together for collective action with engaged stakeholders will lead to more effective and sustainable action in responding to the emerald ash borer. As the various stakeholders are working to influence policies to manage for this invasive threat, we are mindful that “for effective control of invasive exotic species, management approaches need to be perceived by local people as aiming for socio-economic, as well as ecological sustainability” (Bardsley and Edwards-Jones 2006:1). Moreover, we recognize that in addressing complex resource management situations such as the emerald ash borer in Maine’s forest resources, a critical piece of effectiveness is what Dietz et al. call “analytic deliberation”—in other words, structured dialogue between scientists, resource users, and interested publics informed about human-environment systems (Dietz, Ostom, and Stern 2003: 1910). Analytic deliberation “improves the effective use of information, enhances conflict resolution, consensus and adaptive governance, and builds cooperation between local stakeholders and the state” (Robson and Kant 2009: 547). Our initial strategies in bringing together resource users—especially those who are most potentially impacted by this invasive threat—reflect our belief that analytic deliberation will lead to the best knowledge and governance solutions to manage this threat. Therefore, as we develop strategies with stakeholders for research and policy to prevent, detect, and respond to the EAB, we will continue to develop a strategic plan that accounts for and structures these interactions.
Additional project information
Darren Ranco profile
Brown Ash Website