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Study: Wisconsin tribal forests more diverse, sustainable

April 20, 2018 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Native American reservations in northern Wisconsin have older trees, as well as better plant diversity and tree regeneration than surrounding state or national forests, according to researchers.

Dartmouth College and University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers recently published their findings in an issue of the Ecology and Society journal, Wisconsin Public Radio reported . Researchers studied forests on four Native American reservations.

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The tribal forests have been able to retain almost all of their plant diversity from 50 years ago, said Don Waller, a study author and professor of botany and environmental studies at UW-Madison.

The lower population of whitetail deer on reservations may contribute to the diversity, Waller said. Tribal forests had 25 to 50 percent fewer deer per acre than other forests, the study found. An overabundance of deer on non-reservation land seems to curtail growth and diversity, he said.

“They’ve decimated the understory, cover and diversity in many areas, including those state parks that banned hunting for many years,” Waller said.

Tribes typically harvest deer at higher rates, said Jonathan Gilbert, director of the Biological Services Division with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“It’s their cultural regulations that permit this. Tribal members are out harvesting deer for food primarily,” Gilbert said. “They want to be able to do that during a broad range of times so not only during nine days in November.”

The study indicated that changes in deer and forestry management can help forests flourish, Waller said.

“We can learn that if we harvest deer in a different way and if we harvest forests in a different way, we can better retain plant diversity. We can ensure higher tree regeneration,” Waller said. “We can store and sequester more carbon and biomass in our forests, addressing some of the greenhouse gas problem that we face.”

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Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org