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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

The impact of climate change on culturally significant wetland plants and their habitat in the Meduxnekeag River watershed in Maine

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
Michelle Baumflek
Suzanne Greenlaw
Research Partners:


Wetland plants are important to Wabanaki people in Maine and are central to Houlton Band of Maliseet Indian (HBMI) identity. HBMI peoples have harvested culturally important plants within the Meduxnekeag watershed for generations. Basket making and medicinal plant harvesting are forms of cultural preservation that are also important to Tribal economies.  

Projections for climate change in the northeastern U.S. include warmer temperatures and changes in the timing, amount, and intensity of precipitation. The hydrological consequences of projected changes will likely include increased temperatures,reduced winter ice cover on lakes and streams, earlier spring streamflow peaks, reduced summer streamflow, and increased summertime evapotranspiration. Baseline data on wetland plant species is vital to identifying the vulnerability of wetland plant species in the Meduxnekeag watershed to climate-change related hydrologic shifts.  

This project will integrate HBMI traditional knowledge with a recently developed watershed model for the Meduxnekeag to develop a research process that addresses HBMI climate adaptation needs surrounding wetland plants. Products will include an inventory of wetland plants of cultural importance, a vulnerability index of wetland species to climate change, and multiple workshops guiding plant inventory methodologies and actionable science outcomes. Outcomes could include prioritization of wetland areas to restore or protect, and the adaptation of current water quality monitoring to ensure early detection of climate related stressors.  

Project leaders will incorporate Traditional Knowledge at all stages of the project. HBMI peoples will hold the culturally sensitive plant data and decide on management actions resulting from this work. As Tribes in Maine acquire new lands, this work would help them identify and assess climate risk to wetland plants in both new and existing watersheds that they steward. It will serve as a template for work in other watersheds throughout New England.