Climate Resilience Toolkit – Adapting to Climate Change on the Klamath

One of many Klamath River Prescribed Burn Training events. Photo: Will Harling.

The Karuk have an innate relationship with fire. Tribal members maintain that the age-old practice of prescribed burning holds the answer to climate adaptation planning in the Klamath River range. Recently, the Karuk’s story about utilizing fire as a cultural resource and its positive impact toward climate adaptation in northern California was included in the US Climate Resilience Toolkit.  

The Toolkit offers steps to resilience, case studies, tools and expertise to help communities build climate resilience in the face of changing environments. 

Fire is foundational to the Karuk Tribe, who live and manage 1.48 million acres of their aboriginal lands along the Klamath and Salmon Rivers. They continue to use fire for a variety of reasons including the enhancement of food resources and cultural materials, cultural education, and to reduce available fuels for high-severity wildfire.  

The Karuk are now working to revitalize Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as a tool in wildland management systems.  Indigenous burning is increasingly being recognized as a valuable component in the ecosystem and a tool for restoration. The Tribe has researched and published two reports concerning social and environmental climate changes and the long-term effect the Karuk people are facing with regard to knowledge sovereignty and the vulnerability of their TEK.   

One report – Karuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Need for Knowledge Sovereignty – emphasizes two key concepts:

  • that TEK is not an isolated application, but a living system that requires ongoing practice for survival. 
  • that it is impossible to attempt to remove TEK from its original context.
A follow up report – Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty – stresses the federal obligation to maintain Karuk knowledge sovereignty and provides strategies to promote traditional knowledge sovereignty including reference to the Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives.