Ecological legacies of Stoney Nakoda stewardship in a montane grassland: a century of vegetation change in Egnuck Wida and the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve




Schepens, Gabriel B

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In the Canadian Rocky Mountains, landscape patterns have changed dramatically in the last 150 years. Management transitions shift landscape vegetation patterns, and areas previously stewarded by Indigenous inhabitants are undergoing successional change. On the traditional territory of the Stoney Nakoda Nations, I document vegetation change on both the landscape and plot level. Using oblique photographs taken in 1924 paired with 2021 satellite imagery, I compared past and present vegetation types. Nearly half (47%) of the landscape surveyed showed seral progression in vegetation class, which was not explained by topography, geology, or climate warming. Grassland area decreased four-fold between 1924 and 2021. Grassland retention was strongly related to management zoning with greater losses in the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve than on lands under Stoney Nakoda management. Vegetation plots surveyed in 1981, 1996, and 2020 in the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve reveal changes to vegetation class, plant community composition and culturally important forbs. In plots previously composed largely of forbs and graminoids (mean cover of 35 and 32 % respectively), shrubs have become the dominant groundcover (increase from 0.4% cover in 1981 to 32% cover in 2020). Changes in community composition are evident between sample periods, indicating a shift in seral state. Culturally important forbs decreased in cover by 4 times since 1981. The most likely explanation for these results is the removal of Indigenous people and stewardship, which shaped these landscapes over millennia of seasonal camps, traditional fire stewardship, plant harvesting, and hunting. Future work led by Indigenous land stewards is necessary to re-establish and maintain the integrity of longstanding ecological processes in Rocky Mountain landscapes.



ecology, montane, succession, vegetation, Indigenous fire stewardship