Ethnoforestry: Bringing a new method of sustainable forestry to campus

Executive Summary:

In current forest management practices and education traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous people is not often addressed or acknowledged. Local tribes have thousands of years of collective knowledge about the inner workings of ecosystems, plant growth, and traditional foods and medicines. This important information should be utilized to make more informed decisions about forest management to enhance both ecosystem and community wellbeing and provide a holistic approach to sustainability. As a way to bring traditional knowledge to the forefront of forest management, a new discipline of ethnoforestry has been created and will be implemented on campus through this project.

Ethnoforestry elicits traditional ecological knowledge by local people and incorporates it into the forest management process. Through this work, culturally important plants could be planted in forests where they can be harvested commercially or by tribal members to use, generating new small businesses and jobs in places hit hardest by the reduction in the logging industry. Management would be tailored to benefit the ecosystem as well as the local community. In order for this type of work to be widespread and successful, it is important to start by teaching and generating opportunities for students to learn about this in a hands-on way.

This grant would be used to execute several objectives including the following: plan a brand new interdisciplinary ethnoforestry class on campus, propagate and grow culturally important species, build an internship and volunteer program, strengthen relationships with local tribes, and construct a new nursery at the Olympic Natural Resources Center (ONRC). This project will take place at the Center for Urban Horticulture and at ONRC.

Through this grant, one Research Assistant position will be funded to spearhead the project. The RA would handle logistics, building relationships with local tribes, collaborating with other departments on campus, developing an intern and volunteer program, and more. Through this project, UW students will have a wide range of chances to get involved and learn and apply this knowledge.

In the Summer of 2019, funds from the CSF grant would be used to construct a new nursery at ONRC. This space will bring together both tribal youth and UW students for a collaborative way to share scientific information and traditional ecological knowledge. During this summer, ONRC will offer internships to local tribal youth and UW undergraduate students where they can learn about ethnoforestry, lands management, and plant production.

Through this project, ONRC will collaborate with many different groups both on and off campus. We will strengthen our current relationship with the SER-UW Nursery through the sharing of resources, staff time, and expertise. We will continue to build our relationship with the Quileute tribe and begin to work with their high school science classes to help monitor and grow plants in the ONRC nursery. We will also create brand new partnerships with UW Grounds, the Carlson Center, and other related departments. This project will be an opportunity to break the current mold of restoration and lands management and create a new, more inclusive and interdisciplinary model.

Student Involvement:

This ethnoforestry project will allow students from all majors from Environmental Science and Resource Management to Anthropology to get involved in the process. Creating a project where students from different backgrounds and fields are able to learn together in an inclusive environment will lead to success. In order to achieve this, we will create internship and volunteer opportunities on a regular basis in partnership with the SER-UW Nursery. With both projects supporting one another, we will enhance the amount of volunteer events, interns, and plants produced overall to have a greater impact on campus.

Since the Nursery has an already established volunteer base whose interests may overlap with ethnoforestry, we will partner with them to offer additional opportunities. The Nursery has agreed to work with our interns to provide more opportunities for them to learn about plant production and nursery management in their nursery. This will allow for both the RA and interns to help assist their efforts while also giving interns a more well-rounded internship experience. We will work with the SER-UW communications team to add our ethnoforestry work parties into their weekly mailer to reach more students across campus. Because we already have a strong relationship between groups, we believe that this will help gain a dedicated intern and volunteer base.

We will host one to two interns each quarter during the year and an additional three to five interns over the Summer of 2019. During the year, interns will work on a wide range of projects that will allow them to leave with a diverse skill set in topics ranging from nursery production of ethnobotanical species to restoration. Interns will assist in the creation of new beds designed to grow bare root plants (meaning plants that grow directly in a raised bed instead of a nursery pot). This style of plant growth uses less soil, is more water efficient, and allows for more plants per square foot than growing in pots. This will lower the footprint of the project by reducing resources while teaching a different method of plant growth.

In addition, interns will help with the plant propagation and production of ethnoforestry species. After, they will plan and execute a new restoration site on campus where we will install these species, showing the full process of ethnoforestry while restoring a campus green space. This project will be in partnership with SER-UW and will give us the opportunity to build our relationship with UW Grounds. Finally, interns will also help plan and execute the ONRC nursery.

Over the summer of 2019, interns will be based out of ONRC. During the internship, they will assist in the establishment of the ONRC nursery and learn plant propagation and production techniques in this new space. This will be paired with field work on a new watershed study that incorporates ethnoforestry in the study plan. Students can see the full scope of the mission of ethnoforestry from seed collection to implementation in a scientific study.

During this time, we will also work with the Quileute tribe’s Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) that offers internships for high school tribal students. YOP is a great chance for tribal youth to gain experience and new skills. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of placements for these students. ONRC has established a partnership with YOP to host interns during the Summer of 2019. This will be an excellent chance to teach young people from the Quileute tribe about lands management, restoration, and plant propagation. The high school dropout rate is high on the reservation with a lack of support to help students attend college. This internship will be a way for these students to explore future careers and a pathway to the University of Washington. Jobs on or near the reservation are often in this field, making this a good opportunity for tribal students to earn a degree and return to their home for their career if they choose. In addition, this will allow for the UW undergraduate interns and tribal youth to learn from one another. Tribal students can share their important traditional ecological knowledge and experience, while UW students can provide mentorship and gain leadership skills.

Volunteer opportunities will also be offered on a regular basis on main campus. During this events, volunteers will be able to assist in growing ethnoforestry plants, working on restoration sites, creating new plant beds, and more. Based on the involvement of volunteers through the SER network, we anticipate having 10-15 students participate at each event. In order to reach a wider audience, we will work with ESRM 100 where students must complete a volunteer requirement. In the SER-UW Nursery, this has brought in dozens of additional volunteers throughout the year, allowing more students a chance to learn and be exposed to new techniques like ethnoforestry. We will also partner with the UW Carlson Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity to offer service-learning opportunities. Additionally, we will work with interested capstone students. ESRM students are required to complete a two quarter capstone project in their final year. For those interested in ethnoforestry, this can be one of the only opportunities for them to engage in this topic. Students can work with ONRC and the Nursery to establish a research project focused on this topic. Resources and space could be made available at the Center for Urban Horticulture if students wanted to run a greenhouse experiment.

Students will be able to gain a skill set that allows them to look through a new lens and understand why incorporating traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom is a crucial step in the future of lands management, restoration, and forest ecology.

Education & Outreach:

Education and outreach will be key components of our project. One of our main goals is to have both formal and informal ways for students to learn approaches to ethnoforestry and how to apply it. Our internship and volunteer programs will generate educational opportunities and student involvement in the project. There is currently no program like this on campus for students to learn about both traditional ecological knowledge and forestry in a holistic fashion.

This project will be publicized by sharing with the SEFS, ESRM, Biology, Anthropology, and College of Built Environment communities as well as with the SER-UW network. As a former SER-UW Nursery Manager that worked on volunteer recruitment, I am very familiar with reaching out to groups on campus and will bring that expertise to this project.

The RA position will be responsible for coordinating all internships and volunteer events. In addition, this position will also be in charge of developing an interdisciplinary ethnoforestry course. After connecting with both undergraduate and graduate students in ESRM and SEFS, it has become clear that students are missing this in their education. This course would work with local tribal members and other departments at UW to create a class that is a mixture of lecture and field experience. This class would take students from seed collection of culturally important species to planting in a formalized setting.

Students will also have the unique opportunity to learn the process of designing and implementing a nursery. This type of learning-by-doing experience is rarely fulfilled by traditional classes but represents tasks that are often required in the post-collegiate life. Growers face many challenges when attempting to propagate and grow species including pests, extreme weather, and irrigation. Students will learn how to design a technologically sophisticated nursery space that is equipped to deal with issues that may arise when producing plants. The ONRC nursery will have overhead and drip irrigation installed and be set to timers to automatically distribute water at set intervals depending on current rainfall conditions and temperatures. In addition, it will have temperature and wind gauges to provide information about current conditions so the nursery can be managed accordingly. These additions will help the nursery run smoothly, reduce the amount of resources needed, and will make tasks that often take many hours and staff to accomplish and automate them. Because the nursery will not have students in it daily to complete these tasks, this system will help the plants thrive.

This nursery will also serve as a hub for local coastal tribes to learn about plant propagation and production. Both the Quileute and Hoh tribes have expressed an interest in growing their own native plants for their reservations and restore local forests with cultural keystone species. This nursery will be a space to bring tribes together for a common goal and learn from one another. Instead of having a separate nursery on each reservation, they can grow plants together at the ONRC nursery. This will hopefully strengthen their relationship with one another and ONRC. Space and tools will be provided at no charge to them. In addition, the RA position will put together propagation protocols for plant species they would like to grow in order to ensure success. In the future, we hope that tribes feel a sense of ownership and will consistently come to the nursery to help with its maintenance and teach their youth about culturally important plants.

Environmental Impact:
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
Project Longevity:

ONRC is partnering with other organizations to apply for grant funding to continue this effort. An existing partnership is already established with the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship and the Nature Conservancy’s Coast Works program in Seattle. Through these, we hope to increase the longevity of the program. As we generate stronger relationships with the Quileute tribe and expand to other coastal tribes, we would like them to get more involved in the running of the ONRC Nursery. This will ensure work is done on a regular basis in the nursery and also create a hub for plant propagation information to be shared. A portion of the RA’s time will be allocated to researching additional revenue sources as well.

Environmental Problem:

The boom and bust cycle of the logging industry left many rural Washington communities without jobs and stuck in a cycle of persistent poverty. As a way to generate stable, long term jobs while benefiting the ecosystem, culturally important species can be installed into forests that can provide a source of plants for tribal members and also be harvested and sold as a non-timber forest product. Local tribes have often been neglected and ignored by forest managers and their deep knowledge of the landscape pushed aside. This can be combated by incorporating a new forest management technique and philosophy: ethnoforestry. In this new approach, traditional knowledge by tribes is highlighted and respected as key information to fully understand how we should manage our ecosystems. Through this process, culturally important plants can be grown, planted in forests, and harvested for food, medicine, goods, or commercially to be sold in the local community.

This approach can be scaled up for large ecosystems or scaled down to bring to UW’s campus through this project. This effort will help teach students how this concept can be applied to a real setting. Plants grown on campus will be used for restoring campus green spaces for students to experience the full scope of the project while increasing sustainability. Generating a new ONRC nursery will also provide a space to learn plant propagation and production, connect with local tribes, generate pathways for tribal youth to pursue higher education, and grow ethnoforestry species that can be used both at ONRC and on nearby reservations. Finally, building an ethnoforestry class on campus we be an excellent place for students to learn and practice these skills. The future of sustainability in forest management does not lie in perfecting tree growth and timber harvests. Instead, we believe creating a system that encourages ecosystem wellbeing along with community wellbeing will result in true sustainability. Teaching these concepts to students across campus will foster a new generation of professionals who can bring an inclusive approach to forest and ecosystem management forward.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Impacts will be measured through a mixture of student involvement and projects. We hope to host between six and twelve undergraduate interns next year, two to five tribal youth interns, and at least 15 volunteers per month at work parties. This will allow us to build momentum, provide projects for interested students, and establish partnerships with groups on campus. Creating bare root beds and the ONRC nursery will be impactful and increase the sustainability of the project. Bare root beds will be shared with the SER-UW Nursery to help add to their stock of available plants. It will also be used for on-campus restoration at our future ethnoforestry site. This approach to growing reduces resources and space and teaches students a new skill that is not being done on campus. In addition, creating the nursery will greatly add to the sustainability of the project and increase its impacts. This will be a unique space where both local community members and UW students come together to learn and experience plant production and ethnoforestry.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $92,800
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
** Budget uploaded to application

Non-CSF Sources:

Organization SourceDescription Amount
ONRCIn-kind Donation Donation of facility usage and staff time of ONRC staff members$5-10,000
Project Completion Total: $102,800


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Create bare root beds 2-3 months December 2018
Establish partnerships with other departments on campus 6February 2019
Establish new on-campus restoration site 6-8 monthsApril 2019
Design and construct ONRC nursery 10-12 months July 2019
Grow ethnoforestry plant species 6-12 months August 2019
Create ethnoforestry class 12 months August 2019