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Forest fires in coastal Nunatsiavut: Inuit knowledge and land use - Frederic Dwyer-Samuel, Alain Cuerrier & Luise Hermanutz

Part of:
4:45 PM, Saturday 5 Oct 2019 (30 minutes)
Fire is the main large-scale natural disturbance in the boreal forest, and thus an important part of many

indigenous people’s environment and cultural knowledge. However, even if Nunatsiavut’s present-day communities are all south of the treeline, recorded information is scarce about the Labrador Inuit relationship with fires on the landscape, and their ecological knowledge of the disturbance. This study used semi-structured interviews in Postville and Nain to document Inuit knowledge of the impact of forest fires on the ecosystem and to characterize their relationship with fire. In addition, follow up group interviews were conducted after preliminary analysis of the data. Recorded Inuit knowledge was also linked with results from scientific surveys conducted in other areas of this research project. Interviews showed that Inuit use of burns is dominated by wood harvesting, followed by concomitant activities such as hunting. Relationships with forest fires and uses of burns varied between the two studied communities. Notably, activities on the burns were more diverse in Postville (including berry picking), and wood harvesting patterns differed. Inuit knowledge of fire’s impact covered large temporal and spatial scales, and was focused on ecosystem characteristics observable in the winter, when the burns are mostly used. Impacts reported in interviews included increased growth of shrubs, inconsistent tree regeneration and increased abundance of spruce partridge. Inuit knowledge and scientific surveys were, in this context, mostly complimentary, with surveys providing information on a smaller scale and concentrated on different aspects of fire impacts.

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