Traditional Native Forestry Management Being Used to ‘Reverse Over a Century of Fire Suppression’ in the Somes Bar Project, Says Karuk Tribe
In the wake of one of California’s worst wildfire seasons in history, the Karuk Tribe, Six Rivers National Forest, and local watershed groups have just announced plans to implement a new approach to forest management in the heart of the Klamath Basin. The groups recently released the Somes Bar Integrated Fire Management Project Draft Environmental Assessment (Somes Bar Project) signaling the beginning of a new era of fire and forest management projects on public lands. The Somes Bar Project was developed through collaborative efforts, like the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP).
The WKRP is a diverse stakeholder group made up of the Karuk Tribe, Six Rivers National Forest, Mid Klamath Watershed Council, Environmental Protection Information Center, agencies, local community members, and resource specialists of many disciplines. The purpose of the WKRP is to move forward the groups’ shared values identified over the course of many years of meetings. “The Somes Bar Project is a result of years of work by a group of dedicated people,” said conservationist Kimberly Baker of the Klamath Forest Alliance and EPIC. “More thought and care has gone into this project than any of the hundreds before it. It is a true collaborative and holistic approach to restoration.”
The project is an historic undertaking aimed at revitalizing pre-contact fire regimes, by tapping into Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and holistic landscape management strategies. The broad goal is to restore the historic human relationships with fire, and create lasting bonds between the people and the landscape. According to Bill Tripp, Deputy Director of Eco-cultural Revitalization for the Karuk Tribe, “A lot of this isn’t really new, its ancient knowledge that we are bringing back and merging with the best available contemporary science.”
The Somes Bar Project is very much different from past efforts in many ways. Since European contact the Karuk tribal community has never had its TEK and cultural priorities play such a prominent role in planning for a large scale forest health project. In addition to being a critical part of the interdisciplinary team planning the project, tribal crews also worked alongside Forest Service crews in the field doing unit layout, stream delineation and many other tasks. According to Rony Reed, MKWC field crew lead, “I’ve been involved in different pieces of WKRP project for nearly two years, and it is amazing to see the growth of the entire project headed in the right direction. As a lifelong member of the community, I feel like this is absolutely the best way for us to help each other sustain a long and healthy lifestyle for ourselves, but most importantly for our future children, and grandchildren.”
The group has worked tirelessly to get the necessary buy-in from agencies and the community. “Our communities are made up of a diverse and dedicated workforce of many experience levels and backgrounds. WKRP is a forum for us to build trust, share knowledge and develop land management strategies that reflect the needs and values of our community,” said Chook-Chook Hillman, Natural Resources Technician for the Karuk Tribe. Although Hillman admits that the change they seek will be slow, “we are working to reverse over a century of fire suppression and cultivation of Douglas-Fir plantations in the middle Klamath. I accept that our goals will take multiple generations to fully realize, but in the end holistic eco-system management is a responsibility and not a choice.”
The Karuk world renewal culture is one of inter-connectivity with the landscape. “We believe that the trees, plants, fish and people are all related,” explains Hillman. “That’s why forest management isn’t just about trees, but how the forests relate to the entire eco-system.” The Somes Bar Project is available for review at the Orleans Ranger District, 1 Ishi Pishi Road, in Orleans, as well as at the Forest Supervisor’s office, 1330 Bayshore Way, in Eureka. The document is also available for review online at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51276.