Sustainability of culturally important teepee poles on Mescalero Apache Tribal Lands: Characteristics and climate change effects

Tyler K. Mockta, Peter Z. Fulé, Andrew Sánchez Meador, Thora Padilla, Yeon Su Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Integrating traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with western science and modeling tools can enhance not only the delivery of culturally important species, but also community support and overall effectiveness of management. This paper presents a case study of co-producing usable science integrating TEK on a culturally important species with a modeling tool, Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator (C-FVS). The Mescalero Apache tribe (southwestern USA) conduct a coming of age ceremony for young women who follow a traditional way of life. In order to conduct this ceremony, tall, thin teepee poles made from Douglas-fir trees are needed. Douglas-fir trees capable of producing teepee poles are a culturally important resource for the Mescalero Apache tribe. We interacted with medicine people, tribal members, and forest managers to gain insight on characteristics of teepee pole stands. We established thirty, 400 m2 circular plots with nested 100 m2 regeneration plots in teepee pole producing stands to characterize composition, structure, age, growth rates, and fuels. Teepee pole producing stands occupy an elevation range from 2012 to 2561 m, slopes of 3–43%, and aspects from NW to NE. The stands consist of dense, relatively old trees dominated by Douglas-fir, with other species of trees usually present as a minor component. Douglas-firs in teepee pole producing stands averaged 1255 ± 99 trees per ha (TPH), basal area 31.7 ± 1.5 m2/ha, and 18.5 ± 0.5 cm quadratic mean diameters (QMD). Douglas-fir trees in teepee pole producing stands were most commonly 75–100 years old with diameters at breast height (DBH) ranging from 5.1 to 25.4 cm. In order to assess future trajectories of teepee pole stands, we applied C-FVS which incorporates the effects of climate change scenarios over the next 100 years. We compared three standard scenarios ranging from moderate to severe climate change: Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 4.5, 6.0, and 8.5. Simulated future forests at the current plot locations even under the most mild climate change scenario (RCP 4.5) did not contain Douglas-fir after a century of modeling. Complete forest mortality was predicted under RCP 6.0 and RCP 8.5. Comparing bioclimatic niche modeling of Douglas-fir with downscaled future climate scenarios indicated that the species would have to be planted at least 305 m higher to maintain 21st century viability under RCP 4.5 and 6.0, or at least 610 m higher under RCP 8.0. The characterization of current teepee pole producing stands and simulations of future effects of climate change provide useful information to the Mescalero Apache Tribe to support management decisions on how they would like to preserve this cultural important resource.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-258
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Dec 15 2018


  • Assisted migration
  • C-FVS
  • Climate-forest vegetation simulator
  • Douglas-fir
  • New Mexico
  • TEK
  • Traditional ecological knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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