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WIIGWAAS Commercial demand for birch on the rise as species declines By Charlie Otto Rasmussen Staff Writer ReserveWis.By late summer of 2015 community elders had seen enough. Week after week theyd witnessed birch poles being spirited away from the Lac Courte Oreilles LCO reservation by the thousands. The one-to-four inch diam- eter saplings locally known as lodge poles filled pick-up trucks and trailers alike. Left behind across the LCO landscape scattered small diameter stumps project randomlyfromtheforestfloorsometimesafewincheshighsometimesafewfeet. Even the trees at our managed birch regeneration site were cleared out said Dan Tyrolt LCO conservation director. The LCO Tribal Governing Board took the issue head-on ordering the tribes conservation department to issue an emergency birch cutting closure on August 25 2015 which still allows for ceremonial harvest of birch poles by permit. Paper birch is a species of special concern for tribal members that rely on the bark or wiigwaas of mature trees to craft baskets shelters and from exceptional treescanoes. Weve requested technical assistance from GLIFWC and begun a study to see how we can achieve a sustainable harvest said Tyrolt. No one wants to infringe on tribal harvest rights but we need to get a better handle on how much birch leaves the reservation. Over the last decade forest managers have witnessed a marked increase in woodland products gathering within many Ceded Territory forests. Authorities acrossWisconsinspaperbirchrangehaveexchangedsimilarobservationsinrecent years birch poles on county state and federal forests are disappearing fast. The trend has a lot to do with non-native invasive species. And China. Hot commodity In the wake of devastating arrivals of invasive species like the emerald ash borer the US Department of Agricultures Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suspended imports of wooden poles limbs and branches with intact bark from China in April 2005. Distributors specializing in supplying the craft and decoration industry shifted their gaze from Asia to the Ojibwe Ceded Territory home to more than a quarter of all the paper birch in the United States. Theres quite a few people that are buying birch now said Ed Schmocker a manager at Winter Woods since 1989. Northern Wisconsins Winter Woods is a buyer and wholesaler of everything from balsam boughs to pinecones and twigs and other woodland products. Schmocker said the strong market for birch has attracted new players on the wholesale scenesome who establish mobile buying stations on well-traveled northwoods highways. Other buyers operate primarily online. Purchasing agents look for eight-foot birch poles between one and three inches each pole fetches from 1.50 to 2 for harvesterspretty good money for a small crew of cutters. Schmocker said the market for birch logseight inches or more in diameteris also good selling for one dollar per foot. GLIFWC tribes feds pursue sustainable management strategies Birch lodge poles and branches are popular craft items and furniture accessories. The lobbies of various northland businesses and resorts like this one on Lake Namekagon often use birch products as a decoration. COR Wiigwaas for the future Faced with a rapidly expanding birch market GLIFWC and LCO staff are corresponding with other forest experts in the Ceded Territory to evaluate the full extent of the trend and develop a monitoring protocol. The effort comes with a measureofironyasspecialistsfromtheGLIFWCUSForestServiceandNorthern Research Station conduct a decade-long investigation into Great Lakes wiigwaas abundance with an emphasis on cataloguing bark characteristics. Last year that research yielded the technical report Paper Birch Wiigwaas of the Lake States 1980-2010 which delivered the sobering news that birch trees have declined by 49 over the 30-year study period. The increasing scarcity of paper birchespecially large trees for canoesis a big issue among traditional gatherers said Steve Garske GLIFWC wild plant specialist. Its important that we understand how commercial twig and sapling harvest will likely affect birch regenerationand abundance in the CededTerritory. In the national forests legal off-reservation birch harvest for tribal members and non-members alike is restricted to certain areas. As reported from the Iron County Forest Wisconsin and elsewhere birch pole income seems to be generat- ing a gold rush mentality leading to unlawful and unsustainable cutting. For his part Schmocker said that he networks with loggers and land managers to identify sites where cutting crews can conduct forest product salvage harvests. We try to get the guys into certain areasunder power lines gas right-of- ways pine plantations said Schmocker who buys from LCO Red Cliff and Bad River members. Theres a lot of birch around so we discourage people from harvesting heavily in the same area. It should be spread around. Updated mercury maps highlight safe walleye consumption The spring ogaa walleye season is right around the corner. Whether you will be setting out upon the waters spearing or simply enjoying the catch let GLIFWCs mercury maps help you make informed decisions about safe fish consumption. The spring spearing of ogaa is an important part of the Anishinaabe bimaadiziwin lifeway. Tribal members can reaffirm their off-reservation treaty harvest rights while providing their families and communities with a high quality food source. But as with any fish ogaawag contain mercury an environmental contaminant that comes largely from the burning of coal and from metallic mining and processing activities. GLIFWCsmercurymapsprovidelake-specificogaaconsumptionadvice indicating the safe number of ogaa meals per month for each lake. You can reduce your mercury exposure by choosing lakes with lower mercury levels referring to the maps for the safe number of ogaa meals for a particular lake and targeting smaller fish which tend to be lower in mercury. Under funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative GLRI GLIFWC regularly updates the mercury maps with the most up-to-date mercury data available.The maps were updated in early 2016 and are available on our website at httpglifwc.orgMercurymercury.html. Mercury maps along with informational brochures will be available at tribal registration stations and at tribal events this spring. Sara Moses GLIFWC Environmental Biologist Waawaashkeshimakwa harvest in the MI WI MN 1837 1842 Ceded Territories Waawaashkeshi Bad River 179 Fond du Lac 19 Keweenaw Bay 3 Lac Courte Oreilles 327 Lac du Flambeau 304 Lac Vieux Desert 49 Mille Lacs 171 Mole Lake 111 Red Cliff 116 St. Croix 149 Makwa Bay Mills 1 Bad River 9 Fond du Lac 4 Lac du Flambeau 9 Lac Vieux Desert 0 Mille Lacs 0 Mole Lake 6 Red Cliff 11 St. Croix 1 PAGE 5 MAZINAIGANSPRING 2016