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How does tribal ecological knowledge help mitigate wildfire risk?

Through a partnership between the Possibility Lab, California 100, and Northern California native communities, we will support the return of indigenous ecological knowledge into the science of land management. The data generated from this project will examine the effects of prescribed and cultural burns on air quality and climate resiliency. Specifically, this research will provide short-term impact data from cultural burns on soil quality, catastrophic wildfire fuel, and invasive weeds to inform land management practices for climate hazard reduction. The project will involve collecting soil and water samples, quantifying fuel load, measuring water quality and quantity, and conducting invasive species vegetation surveys before and after cultural burns which will help guide land management strategies.

Cultural burns may also positively impact the availability of traditional foods. Research conducted by the Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Project found that 92% of Native American households in the region are food insecure and 70% never or rarely get all the Native foods they desire. These figures include Karuk, Klamath, and Yurok Tribes. The combination of living in a USDA-declared food desert, global climate change causing seasonal shifts in traditional food systems, and catastrophic wildfires destroying food-producing forests and landscapes, has led to disproportionate impacts of climate hazards for native peoples.

More broadly, the historic exclusion of indigenous ecological knowledge from public-sector environmental decisions has created imbalanced ecosystems and forests prone to catastrophic wildfires. While indigenous tribes have used cultural burns to maintain balance in the forests since time immemorial, obtaining data that quantify the beneficial impacts of prescription fire provides a unique opportunity to hybridize western science methodology and traditional knowledge for wildfire prevention and overall ecosystem health.

This project was made possible with funding from California 100.