COS 86-1: The historical role and current restoration applications of fire in maintaining beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) habitat
Daniela J. Shebitz, Kean University and Justine E. James Jr., Quinault Indian Nation.
This study combines ethnobotanical, historical ecological, exploratory, and experimental studies to research beargrass’ (Xerophyllum tenax (Pursh) Nutt.) population status, historic habitat distribution, and restoration potential using prescribed burning. Ethnographic interviews with Skokomish and Quinault Tribal Members revealed that many beargrass gathering areas in the Olympic Peninsula lowlands were maintained through anthropogenic burning prior to European settlement and that beargrass is declining in those sites. An historical ecology study documented the past existence of beargrass savannas on the southeastern Olympic Peninsula that owed its character to frequent anthropogenic burning prior to European settlement. Experimental studies were taken to understand effects of high- and low-severity fire on beargrass seed germination, seedling establishment, flowering rates, vegetative reproduction, and growth. Results indicated that fire may be effectively used to manage beargrass on the southeastern Peninsula. A high-severity fire led to significant increases in seedling establishment within a year after the fire and an increase in beargrass vegetative reproduction and flowering rates after two years. Manually clearing areas of vegetation and woody debris resulted in an increase in beargrass shoots after one year whereas low-severity fires did not result in a significant increase in beargrass shoot production. High-severity fires were more effective than low-severity burns or manually clearing plots at recruiting beargrass seedlings. The study was based on the premise that indigenous knowledge and land management are inextricably linked to the history and biodiversity of the landscape. This research serves as a case study to other ecologists interested in incorporating indigenous management into their work.