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Disentangling the cultivar published as Quercus texana ‘New Madrid’

A Sustainable Future for Use of Notholithocarpus densiflorus Acorns

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Frank K. Lake

Published May 2019 in International Oaks No. 30: 283–288


Notholithocarpus densiflorus (tanoak) acorns continue to be a cultural food staple of American Indian tribes in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion. Tribal traditional knowledge of these trees includes changes with climate, fire regimes, and forest dynamics coupled with cultural adaptive stewardship practices. Recent prolonged drought, wildland fires, and other climatic and non-climatic threats and other stressors are affecting not only acorn production, but also the tribal cultures that depend upon tanoaks across the landscape to provide a range of cultural and ecosystem services. The objective of this research was to synthesize the available traditional and Western scientific data about N. densiflorus stewardship practices to promote acorn-food security. A cross-scaled research framework was developed to investigate which metrics and indicators are important for assessing changes in the condition of: N. densiflorus codominant forests across the landscape, tribal orchards, individual heritage trees, and in the quality of acorn food. Trial field experimental research approaches integrated tribal and Western scientific knowledge to determine the desired ecological conditions for N. densiflorus forests as well as the factors involved in acorn production and the tribal use of orchards, including tree-specific characteristics. This cross-scale, interdisciplinary, multiple-method research approach provides insights about climate and fire effects on acorn production. The range of methods includes aerial LiDAR to characterize forests, acorn gathering-site condition surveys, tribal acorn-foraging trials, and individual acorn-quality assessments. This information is being used to develop current tribal food-security-associated climate-adaptation strategies. Tribal knowledge and stewardship practices of the Karuk and Yurok Tribes of northwestern California are used as case-study examples.


agroforestry, Karuk, Yurok, Klamath-Siskiyou, Western Klamath Restoration Partnership


Bowcutt, F. 2013. Tanoak landscapes: Tending a Native American nut tree. Madroño: 64-86.

Gilles, N. 2017. Catching Fire: The Karuk indigenous tradition of burning forests is culturally and ecologically vital and the Forest Service is starting to see the wisdom. YES! Magazine Spring 2017: 40-43.

Halpern, A. 2016. Prescribed fire and tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) associated cultural plant resources of the Karuk and Yurok Peoples of California (Doctoral dissertation, UC Berkeley).

Lake, F.K. 2013. Historical and cultural fires, tribal management and research issue in Northern California: Trails, fires and tribulations. Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities 5 (22): 5.

Lake, F.K., J.A. Parrotta, G. Giardina, I. Davidson-Hunt, and Y. Uprety. 2018. Integration of Traditional and Western Knowledge in Forest Landscape Restoration. In Forest Landscape Restoration: Integrated Approaches to Support Effective Implementation, edited by S. Mansourian and J. Parrotta, chap. 12. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge.

Lenihan, J.M., D. Bachelet, R.P. Neilson, and R. Drapek. 2008. Response of vegetation distribution, ecosystem productivity, and fire to climate change scenarios for California. Climatic Change 87(1): 215-230.

Ortiz, B.R., 2008. Contemporary California Indians, Oaks and Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum). In Proceedings of the Sixth California Oak Symposium: Today's Challenges, Tomorrow's Opportunities. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-217, edited by A. Merenlender, D. McCreary, and K.L. Purcell, pp. 39-56.  Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station.

Rossier, C., and F.K. Lake. 2014. Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge in agroforestry. Agroforestry Note 44, General 14. Lincoln, NE: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Washington Office Research and Development, National Agroforestry Center and US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Tepley, A.J., J.R. Thompson, H.E. Epstein, and K.F. Anderson‐Teixeira. 2017. Vulnerability to forest loss through altered postfire recovery dynamics in a warming climate in the Klamath Mountains. Global change biology 23(10): 4117-4132.

Voggesser, G., K. Lynn, J. Daigle, F.K. Lake, and D. Ranco. 2013. Cultural impacts to tribes from climate change influences on forests. In Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States, edited by J.K. Maldonado, C. Benedict, and R. Pandya, pp. 107-118. Cham: Springer

Young, D.J., J.T. Stevens, J.M. Earles, J. Moore, A. Ellis, A.L. Jirka, and A.M. Latimer. 2017. Long‐term climate and competition explain forest mortality patterns under extreme drought. Ecology Letters 20(1): 78-86.