First stewards: ecological outcomes of forest and wildlife stewardship by indigenous peoples of Wisconsin, USA.
Indigenous peoples manage forestlands and wildlife differently than public and private forestland managers. To evaluate ecological outcomes from these differences, we compared the structure, composition, and diversity of Ojibwe and Menominee tribal forests to nearby nontribal forestlands in northern Wisconsin. These indigenous peoples seek to manage forests for mature conditions, accommodate wolves and other predators, and hunt deer to sustain traditional livelihood values. Their forests are often more mature with higher tree volume, higher rates of tree regeneration, more plant diversity, and fewer invasive species than nearby nontribal forestlands. In contrast, nontribal forestlands lost appreciable plant diversity in the 20th century and have failed to regenerate tree species sensitive to deer herbivory. Ensuing shifts in forest composition and wildlife populations have jeopardized the ability of managers to sustain wildlife and meet certification standards on nontribal forestlands. Lessons from tribal forestlands could help improve the sustainable management of nontribal public forestlands.