Camas Prairie Cultural Ecosystems Incubator

Mission & Goals

Humans have inhabited the Pacific Northwest Coast for more than 10,000 years. This profound deep time inhabitation suggests a co-evolution of people and place, creating landscapes in which humans are integral to the natural functioning of the system. These “cultural ecosystems” can be found in the camas prairies of western Washington, Oregon and Vancouver Island. These landscapes were managed by Native Peoples for millennia for food and other resources. Common camas (Camassia quamash) was one of the most important cultural foods in Coast Salish territory and it continues to play a key ecological role, providing early season nectar for two federally endangered butterflies and countless other pollinators. Over the past 200 years these ecosystems and the cultural practices that maintained them have been severely disrupted, due to initial Euro American colonization and the resulting proliferation of invasive species, agriculture and urban development. There is an opportunity to revitalize cultural practices by educating younger generations and engaging both tribal and non-tribal members in conservation and restoration of these critical habitats. Our transdisciplinary group of ecologists, educators, anthropologists, ethnobotanists, and conservationists from academic, Tribal, non-profit, industry and government agencies will work together to identify the most productive approach to implementing cultural and ecological conservation across camas prairies. Through a series of facilitated workshops, we will develop an innovative Cultural Conservation Education and Research Program, create two comprehensive teaching modules about cultural ecosystems, and draft a project design for a camas harvesting study. Throughout this collaborative effort, we will uphold three core principles: 1) reciprocal benefits for all participants, 2) shared importance of social, cultural and biophysical values, and 3) transformative learning expressed into clear outcomes. We expect the educational opportunities that result from these meetings will be linked to restoration efforts, providing active learning in a conservation context.