Native Tribes Are Taking Fire Control Into Their Own Hands

by mejs hasan : wired – excerpt

Sometimes Vikki Preston is inching her way through the forest when she comes across a grove of tan oak trees that feels special. The plants are healthy, the trees are old, and their trunks are nicely spaced out on the forest floor. “You can feel that the grove has been taken care of,” she says. “There’s been a lot of love and thoughtfulness.”

Tan oak groves have long been tended by indigenous people who still live along the banks of the forested Klamath and Salmon Rivers near the California-Oregon border. Preston, a cultural resource technician for the Karuk tribe, grew up watching her grandfather tend just such a grove—by burning it. Fire helped cleared away small pines, alders, and willows. It killed pests like weevils that ruin acorns, and allowed for new, straight shoots of hazel to grow that can be used for basket-weaving. It left a forest sentineled with sugar pine and oaks, scattered with meadows full of wildflowers and ferns…

A hundred years later, though, western science and policy-makers are rethinking the subject. Federal forests are now choked with dead leaves, brush, and dense fir trees, a tinderbox for wildfires whirling out of control. Between 1975 and 1985, wildfires burned just over 2,000 acres a year nationwide. In the decade from 2005 to 2015, that number averaged more than 350,000 acres a year. So in a new policy, the Forest Service on July 27 signed an implementation plan for managing public forest lands—an agreement in which both fire and the Karuk play a vital role

American Indians across the US are now contacting Tripp, Rubalcaba, and others in the Klamath River, wondering what chances they have for similar partnerships. …(more)

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