The precarious state of a cultural keystone species: Tribal and biological assessments of the role and future of black ash

Kara K.L. Costanza, William H. Livingston, Daniel M. Kashian, Robert A. Slesak, Jacques C. Tardif, Jeffrey P. Dech, Allaire K. Diamond, John J. Daigle, Darren J. Ranco, Jennifer S. Neptune, Les Benedict, Shawn R. Fraver, Michael Reinikainen, Nathan W. Siegert

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Black ash (Fraxinus nigra Marsh.) plays a central role in several Native American teachings (including a Wabanaki creation story) and has long been used for basketry, yet relatively little is known about the species’ ecology. The recent and ongoing invasion of emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire), an invasive beetle killing millions of ash trees in eastern North America, threatens the future of black ash and the centuries-old basketry tradition. In recognition of the precarious state of this cultural keystone species, basketmakers, basket-tree harvesters, and researchers assembled to discuss traditional ecological knowledge and research advancements related to black ash. Here we provide an overview of basket-quality ash, synthesize current knowledge of black ash biology and ecology, and report findings from this successful tribal and scientific collaboration. Management recommendations were developed and future research needs outlined in hopes of sustaining an ecologically important tree species and maintaining a Native American tradition that has cultural and spiritual significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-446
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Forestry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 25 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: We appreciate the traditional ecological knowledge regarding black ash basketry and basket-quality ash that was generously shared by Gabriel Frey (Passamaquoddy Tribe, Indian Township), Jeremy Frey (Passamaquoddy Tribe, Indian Township), Eldon Hanning (Micmac Tribe), Frank Hanning (Micmac Tribe), Gerald “Butch” Jacobs (Passamaquoddy Tribe, Pleasant Point), Peter Neptune (Passamaquoddy Tribe, Pleasant Point), Richard Silliboy (Micmac Tribe), Fred Tomah (Maliseet Tribe), and Richard David (Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe). Photos were taken by Sheridan Adams and Knife Edge Productions, Nathan W. Siegert, and Kara K.L. Costanza. This work was supported by the USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection, and by the National Science Foundation (Award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine), and by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire–Stennis project number #ME0-M-8-00501-12 through the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station. Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station Publication Number 3519.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Society of American Foresters. All rights reserved.


  • Agrilus planipennis
  • Basketry
  • Emerald ash borer
  • Fraxinus nigra
  • Invasive forest pest
  • Traditional ecological knowledge


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