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Research Partnership Goes Outside of the Bubble on Lumber River

Water RingsNo one knows the Lumber River like the people of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. In fact, the tribe adopted its name from the river, also known as the Lumbee River, which derived the name from its dark-hued water. Tannins, leached by rainwater from the organic soils of the surrounding wetlands and forested swamps, give this blackwater river system its clear, iced tea-like tint. From its headwaters at Drowning Creek, Lumber River flows about 115 miles downstream through the counties of Scotland and Hoke, bisecting Robeson County, and eventually flowing into the Little Pee Dee River, which flows into the Great Pee Dee River, into Winyah Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the longest unobstructed rivers in North Carolina and the only blackwater river system in the state to be designated as a National Wild and Scenic River by the US Department of the Interior.

The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is a state recognized tribe of approximately 55,000 enrolled members, residing primarily in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland counties. It is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, and the ninth largest in the nation. It is hard to overstate the importance of the Lumber River to the Lumbee Tribe. It has been a major source of travel, subsistence, recreation, aesthetic pleasure, and cultural significance for the Lumbee people and their ancestors for thousands of years.

The Lumbee people’s knowledge of the river and its associated natural resources has shaped the character of the Lumbee community that lives there today; it also provides guidance for the sustainability of both the river and the community. But could rapid changes in global climate and local land use pressures alter the trajectory of both of these fates?

A collaborate research project between the USDA Forest Service Center for Integrated Forest Science (CIFS), North Carolina State University (NCSU), and the NCSU Student Chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is seeking answers to that question.

In this partnership, CIFS Co-leaders Drs. David Wear and James Vose are contributing projection models and datasets developed from an ongoing project in the Yadkin-PeeDee watershed that assess potential impacts of land use and climate change on water resources. Under the direction and mentorship of Ryan Emanuel, associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, undergraduate students in NCSU AISES are using CIFS datasets, USGS stream gauge data and NOAA climate station data to build and fine-tune a hydrological model to analyze the Lumber River’s past and current conditions, and predict its future.

The students are learning real-world, hands-on science related to land use and climate change and will share their findings with members of the Lumbee Tribe and with others in scientific and management communities. Dr. Emanuel, who is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, seems to enjoy the educational and outreach components of this project as much as he appreciates the science. “This is a great opportunity for students to conduct complex yet applicable research, and it elevates the profile of the College of Natural Resources at NCSU. We become known by Native American students as the place to study subjects that align with their interests, and we become better known by tribal officials as the place to come for building relationships and working together on solutions,” states Dr. Emanuel.

Lumber River“The Center for Integrated Forest Science places a strong emphasis on connecting natural resources with people,” says Dr. Vose. “The partnership grant was a joint effort between CIFS and Dr. Emanuel to help ensure that these connections are inclusive and broad based.  The partnership provides an opportunity to better understand the perspectives of Native Americans by interacting with students from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Lumbee Tribe.”

Dr. Wear points out that, in addition opening the lines of communication across a diverse audience, “working with the Lumbee Tribe provides a unique opportunity to understand how potential changes along the Lumber River are viewed by the tribe and how we can increase our effectiveness in creating and delivering scientific information.”

This project truly embodies one of the core missions of CIFS: to address complex questions that require understanding of both biophysical AND human dimensions. In the question of how such an important source of socioeconomic, cultural and spiritual significance as the Lumber River will be impacted by population growth pressures, land use shifts and climate change, it was clear to the project leaders that the research could not occur in a bubble.

In her blog on Emanuel’s website NC Native Environment, undergraduate research assistant on the project and officer in NCSU AISES, Jocelyn Painter explains, “Native Americans residing in the watershed have a rich knowledge of the river and lands surrounding it, and we hope that our study of the river’s future can be joined with traditional knowledge about the river’s past and present to make an interesting and productive dialogue with the Tribe and other communities.”

Dig Deeper

Learn more about the people, natural resources and related topics mentioned in this article…

“Where Rivers are Born” Exploring North Carolina Series, UNC-TV, Natural World Productions, LLC, WRAL-TV and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Aired 11/20/2014 - UNC-TV Video Link.

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