Ethnoforestry: Bringing a new method of sustainable forestry to campus

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $110,000

Letter of Intent:

Summary of Project

The University of Washington’s Olympic Natural Resources Center (ONRC) is pioneering the new scientific discipline of ethnoforestry that elicits traditional ecological knowledge by local people and incorporates it into the forest management process. Indigenous communities have thousands of years of knowledge on the inner workings of ecosystems and this information can be utilized to make more mindful and inclusive decisions that benefit both ecosystems and local communities. Each tribe has cultural keystone species that are of the utmost importance to their culture. Through ethnoforestry, we will learn how to grow and install these plants back onto the landscape so community members have more access to these species for food, medicine, and more. Ethnoforestry is a new and exciting approach to current land management and will be brought to main campus through this project where students will work on tangible projects that will directly impact rural Washington communities, enhancing sustainability and knowledge across campus and Washington state.

The first part of this project will take place on campus through the 2018-2019 academic year.  

During this time, grant funds will be allocated to fund a research assistant position that will spearhead ethnoforestry projects on campus. Projects will cover the following main topics: UW community engagement, plant propagation and production, and strengthening tribal relationships in partnership with the UW Native Pathways Program.

UW community engagement will include creating a new interdisciplinary class, providing internship opportunities for undergraduate students, and offering volunteer work parties for any student interested in ethnoforestry. At the University of Washington, students who are interested in horticulture, plant production, or ethnobotany on campus have very few opportunities to engage and learn about these topics. None of these options, from classes to field courses to symposiums, offer a hands-on opportunity for students to learn how traditional ecological knowledge can be used to improve applied forestry. We will develop an ethnoforestry course in partnership with the Society for Ecological Restoration-UW (SER-UW) Nursery where students can learn applied ethnoforestry in an interdisciplinary way, bringing together students from a wide range of majors and interests from the College of Built Environment to Anthropology and beyond. In addition, ONRC will host one to two ethnoforestry interns quarterly, providing a more in-depth experience for those interested in the topic. Finally, we will offer volunteer work parties in collaboration with the SER-UW Nursery. For students wanting to take this information into their future careers, this will provide opportunities for them to get hands-on experience.

The research assistant, interns, and volunteers will work on plant propagation and production projects. This will include identifying cultural keystone species important with local coastal tribes and learning best growth practices. In collaboration with the SER-UW Nursery, we will install raised beds at the Center for Urban Horticulture that will be used to grow these species in high volumes. These plants will be used for UW forestry studies as well as on-campus student restoration projects. All components of this will be designed and implemented by UW students, providing a space to learn new and sustainable plant propagation and production methods not currently being done by the SER-UW Nursery.

Finally, we will also focus on strengthening Olympic Peninsula coastal tribal relationships. ONRC has been building relationships with coastal tribes on the Olympic Peninsula for two decades. Through these relationships, it has become clear that many of theses communities are impacted by persistent poverty and a lack of opportunity to pursue higher education. Tribes have indicated that they would like to learn plant propagation techniques to teach their youth important knowledge on cultural use of plants. Once grown, these plants can be installed on reservations where tribal members can harvest and utilize these species for a myriad of uses from basket making to medicine. Part of this project will be to create a sister nursery on the Quileute Indian Reservation. UW students will be able to utilize the ethnoforestry knowledge they learned throughout the year on campus and apply it to teach tribal youth how to propagate and grow these culturally important species. A small hoop house will be constructed to house these plants. Tribal youth will be able to hear from UW students about their pathways to college and their involvement in this project. Interested tribal youth will be able to visit campus to learn how they could become future students, increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.

The second part of this project will happen over summer quarter of 2019. Three to five undergraduate interns will work on applied ethnoforestry on the Olympic Peninsula. These students will be based out of ONRC in Forks, WA. They will be able to see ethnoforestry in action on a new forestry study on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula. These UW students will work with tribal youth to set up an ethnobotanical garden with cultural keystone species at ONRC and work on constructing the new nursery on the Quileute Indian Reservation in concert with their social services Youth Opportunity Program.

Environmental Impact

This project has far reaching environmental impact across campus. First, engaging students from all majors and backgrounds through our volunteer program will help disseminate knowledge on how we can responsibly manage green spaces that incorporates important traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom to benefit both communities and ecosystems together. This new and inclusive approach will create a positive environmental impact from student restoration projects to UW grounds projects. In addition, we will be working in close partnership with the SER-UW Nursery to establish new raised beds to more effectively grow additional plants that can be used for on campus projects. These new raised beds will be designed to use less space, water, and soil, reducing the resources required and enhancing sustainability. This will follow the same philosophy as the SER-UW Nursery’s current mission where plants are grown on campus for campus projects, closing the loop and creating a more sustainable system.

Student Leadership and Involvement

All components of this project will have student leadership and involvement. The research assistant position will be filled by a UW graduate student, providing important leadership to this project. A key aim of this project is to make opportunities available for students to learn about ethnoforestry in a hands-on and tangible way on campus. Volunteer opportunities will be available for all students while quarter long internship opportunities will also be provided for those interested in a more in-depth experience.

Education, Outreach, and Behavior Change

There will be a strong emphasis of education, outreach, and behavior change through this project targeting coastal tribal youth through a guided pathways approach.  Creating an interdisciplinary ethnoforestry course on campus open to all students would greatly increase educational opportunities. In addition, creating consistent internships and volunteer opportunities will teach students how they can help change behavior in the long term by their hands-on connection. We will partner with SER-UW, a club that consistently engages large numbers of interested students, to provide outreach to the UW community.

Feasibility, Accountability, and Sustainability

This ethnoforestry project is very feasible. The framework and beginning stages have already begun for this project including creating partnerships with coastal tribes and with the SER-UW Nursery, generating plant propagation curriculum for a sister nursery, and determining some cultural keystone species. This grant would provide the key funding we need to continue to push this project forward. We strongly believe that providing a space where students can learn about this new discipline of ethnoforestry will create and enhance sustainability on campus, but will also have a ripple effect as students move on into their future endeavors and take this knowledge and new skill set with them.

Project Budget

We are requesting $110,00 for this project. This amount would include funding for one research assistant position for the 2018-19 academic year, supplies for plant propagation and production needs, construction of a sister nursery, transportation to and from ONRC, and lodging for the RA position and interns throughout the summer.

Contact Information

Courtney Bobsin


Bernard Bormann


Frank Hanson

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Courtney Bobsin