Patterns of harvest: investigating the social-ecological relationship between huckleberry pickers and black huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum Dougl. ex Torr.; Ericaceae) in southeastern British Columbia

Date

2016-05-05

Authors

Forney, Andra

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Abstract

For centuries the wellbeing of rural communities has depended on the health and resilience of local food systems. Over the last century many factors have contributed to declines in the availability and use of important traditional foods. In this thesis I have used black huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) as a case study through which I explore the varying roles humans play in influencing the health of a wild forest food. Black huckleberry is one of the most sought after wild berries in British Columbia (BC). Over the past few decades huckleberry pickers and forest managers have expressed concerns over the decreasing quality and availability of these berries. To understand the different roles humans play in the ecology of black huckleberry I interviewed 17 long-time huckleberry pickers and participated in berry picking trips – in the East Kootenay region of southeastern BC. I also reviewed the academic literature on huckleberry ecology. I found that huckleberry pickers have a deep knowledge of factors affecting the health of huckleberry patches. They identify both shifting social-economic and ecological conditions in their local forests as intrinsically linked with declining huckleberry availability and health. In contrast, the scientific literature primarily focuses on ecological conditions and forest management practices, ignoring or downplaying the relationship of berry pickers to huckleberry ecology and overall quality. There are significant cultural differences between the berry pickers’ and the scientists’ views of the factors impacting the health of the berry patch. I argue that an effective approach to addressing the problem of declining quality and availability must include the valuable insights berry pickers have on how social-ecological factors affect berry health.

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Keywords

huckleberry, Vaccinium membranaceum, social-ecological, natural resource management, traditional food, traditional ecological knowledge, ethnobotany, ethnoecology, eco-cultural restoration, forest management, non-timber forest product

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