USDA/Colleen Rossier
Jesse Goodwin of the Karuk Food Crew and Frank Lake of the US Forest Service examine evergreen huckleberries.

Traditional Knowledge Fuels Yurok and Karuk Habitat Restoration Project With USDA


Fighting fire-ravaged habitat destruction with … fire?

It may sound counterintuitive, but the Yurok and Karuk tribes, experts at managing watersheds and ecosystems, are working with several agencies in California to manage forests in their traditional territories and thus restore habitat that supports Native plants and wildlife.

Stewards of their ancestral lands for millennia, today the tribes are using traditional agroforestry management methods to bring back some of the habitat and biodiversity of the forests that they call home, according to a blog entry by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Working with the University of California -Berkeley, University of California -Davis, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, the two tribes are working to augment the ability of the forest to support foods such as acorns, pine nuts, huckleberries, hazelnuts, raspberries, deer, elk and mushrooms, as well as make habitat more hospitable for salmon and eel.

The Karuk and Yurok Tribes traditionally managed entire watersheds and ecosystems on their ancestral lands to meet their dietary, cultural and spiritual needs. The Tribes are now working to reestablish the once rich and bio-diverse ecology of their ancestral homeland forests and waterways using traditional agroforestry management systems.

“By putting fire back on the landscape, we intend to restore the currently wildfire-prone food desert into a healthy, bio-diverse, fruit, nut and wildlife-rich forest,” said Karuk Department of Natural Resources Director Leaf Hillman in a statement.

“Wise use of fire will enable both the Yurok and the Karuk Tribes to incorporate many other traditional management techniques into forest restoration as well,” said Yurok Heritage Preservation Officer Bob McConnell in the statement. “Once the forests are more open, local practitioners will be better able to restore hundreds of smaller patches across the forest currently too overgrown to access.”

The USDA points out that “traditional land management systems incorporated a range of burns at different intensities and frequencies, as well as a variety of pruning, gathering and hunting techniques.”

It’s all a matter of holding in reverence that which sustains us, according to tribal officials.

“We’ve been given clear instructions for caring for our relations; the earth, fire, water, the sky,” said Lisa Hillman, Karuk Tribe’s Food Security Coordinator, in the USDA statement. “These are rules to which we as a People must adhere in order to maintain the balance necessary to ‘fix the world’ each year.”

Read more about Re-establishing Tribal Biodiversity Through Agroforestry at the USDA’s blog.

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