Date of Award

Winter 12-16-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forest Resources


John Daigle

Second Committee Member

Sandra De Urioste-Stone

Third Committee Member

Marla Emery

Additional Committee Members

Cynthia Isenhour

Darren Ranco


Nontimber forest products (NTFPs), refer to a class of resources (i.e. moss, fungi, mushrooms, plants, etc.) gathered in both rural and urban landscapes. NTFPs are utilized by a variety of cultures all over the world and are a critical part of medicinal, spiritual, dietary, and economic practices. In fact, some NTFP species are so critical to people that they are considered ‘cultural keystone species’ (Garibaldi and Turner 2004). This designation means that without access to the NTFP, cultural survival is at risk. This is the case in Maine where the Wabanaki, a confederacy of four tribes (Passamaqouddy, Penobscot, Mikmaq, and Maliseet), utilize sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata (L) P.Beauv.) for a variety of cultural practices.

Sweetgrass is a perennial grass that grows in rhizomatous mats (Baumflek et al. 2010). Sweetgrass is classified as a wetland plant and typically inhabits riverbanks, moist meadows, and places along the coast (Baumflek et al. 2010) The Wabanaki use sweetgrass for a variety of purposes. For example, sweetgrass is part of creation narratives, and figures prominently in fiber arts and ceremonies. Sweetgrass is a critical component of Wabanaki fancy baskets, intricately designed baskets that are sold and collected throughout the world (Neuman 2010). Wabanaki basketry traditions are an important part of cultural heritage, sovereignty, and economic survival (Brooks 2014).

Anecdotal evidence suggested that the ability of Wabanaki harvesters to gather sweetgrass in coastal communities was declining due to development pressures and changes in property ownership. This research examined access issues and harvesting practices within the context of Maine’s diminishing open land tradition, which refers to the increased posting of private land in order to prevent trespass. Utilizing a case study approach that incorporated the perspectives of coastal property owners and Wabanaki Citizens, this study illuminated a variety of factors that influence access issues. Specifically, the landowners interviewed and Wabanaki Citizens agreed that development within coastal communities has become problematic; existing access policies favor commercial fishing; and the Wabanaki are disproportionately impacted by access loss. This research concludes with a discussion of strategies for improving coastal access to culturally significant NTFPs, such as sweetgrass.