Mapping rivercane in the Southeast through community science partnership with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians

SRS has partnered with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma on an exciting new community science project to map rivercane ecosystems. Rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea) is a relative of bamboo native to the southeastern U.S. and widely used in basketry and other traditional arts. This project aims to increase knowledge of and access to rivercane.  

holding rivercaneRivercane is a native relative of bamboo, and for many Tribes in the southeastern U.S., it is a source of identity, cultural continuity, and indigenous knowledge that is being shared with new generations of youth. Rivercane ecosystems, called canebrakes, have important ecological roles in maintaining water quality and reducing sediment runoff. Canebrakes currently occupy two percent of their historic range, making them an endangered ecosystem. 

Tribes in the Southeast indicate an urgent need for more information on rivercane ecosystems and more access to canebrakes. Through a Forest Service Citizen Science Grant, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) and SRS are developing strategies for mapping rivercane stands in the southeastern United States. 

Community scientists are testing a smartphone app called iNaturalist for mapping and collecting ecological rivercane data. Eventually, these data can be collected across the Southeast. In February 2020 a mapping pilot event took place on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, part of UKB homelands. Tribal artisans harvested rivercane and shared traditional ecological knowledge – such as methods for processing rivercane to use in basketry, blow guns, and arrows –with UKB youth and national forest staff. 

The approaches this effort is developing could lead to the first regional map on rivercane ecosystems. The effort is also collaboratively generating research questions on rivercane ecology and management that are meaningful to Forest Service scientists and managers, UKB, and other southeastern tribes. 

Pictured: United Keetoowah Band tribal member and ethnobotanist Roger Cain harvests rivercane for use in basketry and other traditional arts. Rivercane is culturally and ecologically important but is not easily accessible for many tribes. A new citizen science project is developing strategies to map rivercane. Photo by Lexie Rue-Harris, USFS Tribal Relations Program

    Research Partners: Lexie Rue-Harris, Tribal Relations Program, Southern Region

    External Partners: Whitney Warrior, Director, Office of Environmental Services & Historic Preservation, United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma

    Contact: Michelle Baumflek, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center. Whitney Warrior, United Keetoowah Band

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