What western states can learn from Native American wildfire management strategies

Oct 29, 2019 at 10:20am

The Conversation

For several months in 2019, it seemed wildfires wouldn’t rage across the West as they had in recent years. But then came the dry autumn and California’s Santa Ana and Diablo winds, which can drive the spread of wildfires. Utilities are shutting off power across the state to reduce the risk of damaged equipment or downed trees on wires causing fires.

There’s no lack of proposals for managing wildfires more effectively: California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed 22 wildfire-related bills in one day. But what’s missing are perspectives from indigenous communities across North America, who have lived with fire for thousands of years.

In our research on climate change and people’s reactions to it, we have worked with the Karuk Tribe in northwestern California and southern Oregon on their plan to manage their land under these evolving conditions. American Indian tribes across the West are working with an increased sense of urgency to manage fire-adapted landscapes in the face of climate change. The Karuk Tribe’s climate adaptation plan directs their efforts to do just that.

This work has convinced us that this is an exciting political moment to restore western forests and protect the public from dangerous wildfires – and that tribes are uniquely positioned to lead the way.

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