Friday, July 8, 2022

Karuk Tribe Official Brings Traditional Knowledge to Federal Wildfire Commission

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2022 at 2:51 PM

click to enlarge Aja Conrad, a member of the Karuk Tribe, swings a drip torch to light off grass and dry brush from the area near Orleans in 2018. A human-caused, wind-driven wildfire there in 2013 threatened the town and burned one residence. - PHOTO BY STORMY STAAT
  • Photo by Stormy Staat
  • Aja Conrad, a member of the Karuk Tribe, swings a drip torch to light off grass and dry brush from the area near Orleans in 2018. A human-caused, wind-driven wildfire there in 2013 threatened the town and burned one residence.
The director of the Karuk Tribe’s Natural Resources Department was named July 7 to the Biden-Harris administration's Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which is tasked with recommending policies and strategies to better prevent, mitigate, manage and recover from wildfire to Congress.


Bill Tripp, a Karuk Tribal member, brings with him traditional knowledge passed down by his great grandmother on using what is now often referred to as prescribed burning as a resource and fuel management tool.


“Fire is a good thing for the land and the people,” Tripp said in a Karuk Tribe news release on his selection. “Fire is part of the natural ecosystem and the cultural fabric of many tribes.”


The Karuk Tribe notes these traditional methods that date back untold centuries are among many cultural practices once criminalized by state and federal laws, with government agencies instead using a futile “put-out-every-fire” approach for more than 100 years.


“You can’t fight fire any more than you can fight an earthquake,” Tripp said. “You can however learn to work with fire to manage the land and make it healthy.”


The commission’s appointment comes as climate change-driven conditions are fueling longer fire seasons and more severe fires, with each year seeming to eclipse the previous one in the sheer number and extent of incidents across the state and the nation.


Just to date this year in California, CalFire and the U.S. Forest Service have 3,598 fires with 22,905 acres burned. In 2021, the 4,125 with 60,507 acres burned. The five-year average is 3,129 fires and 63,375 acres.




A news release from the federal government, the commission “will build on existing interagency federal efforts such as the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and the White House Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and will continue to pursue a whole-of-government approach to wildfire risk reduction and resilience. Its creation comes at an important time as shifting development patterns, land and fire management decisions, and climate change have turned fire ‘seasons’ into fire “years” in which increasingly destructive fires are exceeding available federal firefighting resources.”


The Karuk release notes Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service are now working with tribes to better understand traditional methods for using fire to manage the land, including how “fires can be intentionally started at the right time and in the right place to consume the fuels that would otherwise power a megafire mid-summer,” but Tripps says ““state and federal agencies still have a lot to learn.”


Other benefits of the practice include the promotion of native plant diversity.


“The Karuk Tribe is very proud of Bill Tripp. It’s a great honor to have a Karuk Tribal member part of President Biden’s team and we know Bill will help federal agencies develop better strategies to address the wildfire crisis,” Karuk Chair Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery said in the release.


Read the Karuk Tribe release below:
Washington, DC – Yesterday, Karuk Tribal member and Natural Resources Department Director Bill Tripp was named to the Biden-Harris Administration’s Wildfire Commission. Tripp learned traditional methods of using fire as a resource management tool from his great grandmother. Now he will be sharing those teachings with a nation gripped by a wildfire crisis.

“Fire is a good thing for the land and the people,” explains Tripp. “Fire is part of the natural ecosystem and the cultural fabric of many tribes.”

For more than a century, the teachings of Bill’s elders were criminalized by state and federal laws. State and federal agencies decided that the solution to wildfires was to put out every fire in the forest from coast to coast.

The idea that agencies could douse every fire was absurd according to Tripp, “You can’t fight fire any more than you can fight an earthquake. You can however learn to work with fire to manage the land and make it healthy.”

Today, science is catching up to Karuk’s understanding of how to manage the land. Agencies from CALFIRE to the US Forest Service are now working with tribes to better understand how fires can be intentionally started at the right time and in the right place to consume the fuels that would otherwise power a megafire mid-summer. Cultural burning and prescribed fires also increase native plant diversity and the health of plants that provide food and fiber such as bear grass and tan oaks. However, Tripp notes, “state and federal agencies still have a lot to learn.”

“The Karuk Tribe is very proud of Bill Tripp. It’s a great honor to have a Karuk Tribal member part of President Biden’s team and we know Bill will help federal agencies develop better strategies to address the wildfire crisis,” said Karuk Chairman Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery.

Editor’s note: The press release from the Biden Administration and more information can be found here.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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