The Center for Integrative Conservation Research serves as a knowledge and innovation hub for integrative conservation and environmental research that actively engages with scholars, practitioners, and communities throughout the United States and the world to jointly respond to the “grand challenges” of the Anthropocene.
CICR’s faculty affiliates and ICON doctoral students recognize all knowledge as partial, and seek to work across traditional academic divisions and the research-practice divide. Affiliates work in partnership with tribal, government, non-governmental, and private sector partners while being attentive to the social and environmental complexities of any given situation and to the potential for both scholarly representations and environmental practices to reproduce inequality.
CICR’s transdisciplinary structure includes 120 affiliated faculty and Ph.D. students from across 24 academic units and eight colleges at the University of Georgia.
Inter- and trans-disciplinary partnerships are critical for addressing complex socio-environmental challenges in new ways, yet it can be difficult to identify new colleagues with different and complementary perspectives or to think beyond the silos of disciplines, systems – marine, terrestrial, atmospheric – and institutions. The Catalytic Conversations (CC) initiative aims to address these shortcomings by crafting spaces conducive to engagement and discussion across boundaries, and by inspiring and nurturing creative and productive collaborations. CICR is experimenting with different facilitation strategies and fora to understand what strategies are most effective in launching successful partnerships that cross boundaries and inspire innovative work on the grand challenges of our times.
CICR is an ideas hub for innovative conservation and sustainability research. We foster multidisciplinary instruction in the fields of conservation and sustainability by coordinating the Integrative Conservation (ICON) Ph.D. program and by supporting the University of Georgia’s Sustainability Certificate.
Integrative Conservation Ph.D. Program
The complex conservation issues raised by global environmental change depend upon the integration of specific field expertise with interdisciplinary conceptual and methodological tools and sensitivity to social and political context. The University of Georgia’s Integrative Conservation (ICON) Ph.D. Program offers ICON students the chance to gain disciplinary depth in one of five areas – Anthropology, Geography, Ecology, Forestry, or Marine Science – while also working across disciplines and fields of practice.
The Sustainability Certificate equips students with the skills to make significant changes in their communities, paving the way for a more sustainable future. Through the process of obtaining the sustainability certificate, students gain knowledge about the myriad issues pertaining to sustainability, achieve new perspectives about what sustainability means for diverse individuals, communities and the world, and acquire experience applying this understanding to meaningful, real-world situations.
CICR is committed to engaged research and outreach efforts where complex conservation and sustainability challenging topics are brought to the fore, and where the voices of those historically excluded from conservation planning and decision making are centered. In so doing, CICR hopes to place diverse tools and perspectives at the service of complex decision contexts and foster innovative solutions that enable more transformative, adaptive, and just approaches to socio-environmental problem-solving in an uncertain future.
Partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)
Since Fall of 2019, CICR has been collaborating with the Natural Resources unit of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and partners from the U.S. Forest Service to place faculty and student research at the service of tribal aspirations in the forestry sector.
The partnership comes on the heels of nearly a century of fire exclusion and criminalization of “cultural fires” on both national park and national forest lands bordering the EBCI, and on tribal lands held in trust by the federal management. A history of rampant extractivism and catastrophic fires induced by European settlers, followed by federal protection and fire exclusion, substantially changed forest composition and ecology in the southern Appalachians and resulted in the loss of culturally important species well adapted to historical tribal fire regimes. This included White Oak, a species important to Cherokee artisans for basketry. It has also contributed to shifts in forest ecology through the mesophication of eastern forests, which in turn complicates efforts to restore historical fire regimes and culturally important species (Lafon et al. 2017; Nowaki and Abrams 2008). Thus, while the US Forest Service is increasingly embracing a collaborative approach to the management of USFS lands, these shifts in forest ecology, coupled with a suite of human-caused disturbances (climate change, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, “invasive” species and timber harvesting) create significant uncertainties for managers that make such a partnership both challenging and important to efforts to restore tribal forest practices and values.
The overarching goal of the EBCI forestry program is to restore tribal forest knowledge and management throughout the traditional Cherokee homelands. This partnership aims to support this goal through research activities that advance specific goals linked to White Oak restoration and access, namely:
- To enhance the availability of, and tribal access to and management of, White Oak stands on USFS and tribal lands.
- To identify and inventory White Oak stands suitable for Cherokee artisans on USFS lands.
- To establish silvicultural needs and management plans for white oak stands, with a focus on fire.
- To pilot restoration activities for culturally important plants and ecosystems on EBCI land.
- To establish these activities as demonstration sites, both to orient possessory holders and to facilitate dialogue with partner agencies.
- To enhance forest resilience in the face of climate change.
Prior work of ICON students under this partnership included literature reviews of interest to the EBCI, namely: (i) a literature review to reconstruct the historical ecology of EBCI-forest relationships through time (to highlight forest conditions under EBCI management and how those changed under removal and the suppression of customary land use practices); (ii) an overview of shifting paradigms in restoration ecology (to profile the growing recognition that values drive restoration activities); (iii) a policy brief clarifying the rules governing tribal access to forest products on federal land (to bring clarity on the rules governing harvesting for Federally Recognized Tribes); and (iv) a literature review on the response of White Oak to prescribed fires and possible implications for fire treatments and monitoring. A new cohort of faculty and students is now working with EBCI and USFS partners to develop a burn prioritization plan and accompanying monitoring framework for tribal reserve land.
CICR hosts a biennial Integrative Conservation Conference (ICC). The 2024 ICC will be held February 16-17; more details available here.
During Fall 2023, CICR is partnering with the Institute for Native American Studies to coordinate a monthly reading club on “Legacies on the Landscape.” Read more and register to attend here. You can read about our Spring 2023 reading club series here.