Tule Restoration Alliance

Photo Credit: Nona ChiarielloFormation of A Tule Restoration Alliance

The USACE Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise (TNTCX) has facilitated an alliance dedicated to combining Traditional Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and Traditional Western Ecological Knowledge to achieve successful tule recovery. The alliance is a collaboration between the USACE, with support from the USACE Sustainable Rivers Program (SRP), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The goals of this alliance are to identify partners, create a shared vision, and facilitate an Indigenous tule restoration workshop in the Central Valley of California. The workshop will be jointly hosted by TNTCX and Westervelt Ecological Services, and will include representatives from USACE, Tribes and various Indigenous communities, USFWS, USFS, USGS, state agencies, and universities. The outcome of the workshop will be the development of multi-perspective ecological conceptual models for site-specific restoration studies and projects.  


Thank you for your participationTule Restoration Workshop

The USACE Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise (TNTCX), in collaboration with the Sustainable Rivers Program (SRP), the USACE Sacramento District, Tribal and Indigenous partners, and Westervelt Ecological Services hosted an Indigenous Approaches to Tule Restoration workshop from March 28-30, 2023 at the Veterans Memorial Center, Davis, California.  Please join our email list if you would like more information or if you are interested in participating in the future. Please include your name, email address, and organization/affiliation. If you would like to share what tule topics are important to you (education, access to resource, restoration, cultural heritage preservation, etc) please send an email to: TuleRestorationAlliance@usace.army.mil.

Workshop Partners:

Tule Restoration Workshop Summary Report

2023 Tule Restoration Workshop Summary Report

What is a Cultural Keystone Species?

In order for any cultural group to maintain their identity in the face of changing landscapes, being connected to the land and ecosystem is paramount.  In light of colonial influences, rapid globalization, environmental change, and dietary delocalization this connection is as important as ever to indigenous peoples.  The levels of complexity involved in reconnecting to ancestral landscapes are also immense due to geographic restrictions, governmental policies, and loss of cultural knowledge.  However, there are ways in which Federal Agencies and Tribal Nations can work together to cultivate these connections and foster new vehicles for the transmission of cultural knowledge that benefit both parties.

One avenue to explore in the creation of improved dialogue between Federal Land Managers and Indigenous groups is the role that cultural keystone species play in environmental stewardship and ecosystem vitality.  Cultural keystone species as a concept has been defined as a, “…culturally salient species that shape in a major way the cultural identity of a people, as reflected in the fundamental roles these species have in diet, materials, medicine, and/or spiritual practices” (Garibaldi and Turner 2004).  Although the bulk of the literature regarding cultural keystone species focus the attention on animal species, this project turned the attention to plants.  There are several examples in the literature of such species such as Mesquite in the American Southwest, Prickly Pear Cactus in Madagascar, and Western Red-Cedar in British Columbia.  The TNTCX has focused on Tule as a cultural keystone species with potential to improve lacustrine habit, water quality, erosion control, and cultural revitalization of practices threatened by colonization.

Tule (Schoenoplecuts acutus and Schoenoplectus californicus) is a giant sedge in the Cyperacae family, native to freshwater marshes found throughout the United States. This species provides many benefits to the ecosystem such as fish and wildlife habitat, erosion prevention, flood control, and water quality. Tule is crucial to the culture of many Native American communities, especially those whose ancestral homelands occurred within California's Great Central Valley, and the surrounding foothills. Tule reeds play a vital part in the lives of native people. The harvested material has traditionally been utilized for sacred and cultural practices critical to the continuity of Indigenous lifeways. Tule reeds are collected and used to build boats, houses, sleeping mats, duck decoys, and baskets. The roots and seeds are also edible contributing to a healthy Indigenous traditional diet.

   Polo man in tule boat with tule basket (photo credit: Edward S. Curtis)Tule Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve (photo credit: Nona Chiariello

Although, many Tribal communities still harvest and utilize Tule, access to this important species has become severely limited within California. Vast Tule marshlands once covered California’s Great Central Valley, and Tule also grew in broad bands along the lake shores and rivers. However, most of California’s historic range of Tule has now been significantly altered by agriculture, climate change, grazing, water management, and urbanization.

schoenoplectus acutus credit: California Native Plant Society/Todd Keeler Wolf


For more information on the Tule Restoration Alliance, please join our email list.