Photos and story by Kimberly Baker
The time to adapt and live with wildfire is here. Many communities across the west are working toward that goal. The climate crisis is thrusting change upon urban and rural towns alike. As the flames and smoke become more familiar our relationship with fire must progress. Here in the Pacific Northwest corner of California, strategic fire planning is underway.
EPIC participates in the Smith River Collaborative and the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP). The goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, in part, guide these efforts. Completed in 2014, the national strategy represents a push to work collaboratively among all stakeholders and landscapes, using best science, to make meaningful progress towards three goals: resilient landscapes; fire adapted communities; and safe and effective wildfire response.
Based on 20 years of collaborative work between diverse partners, WKRP formed in 2013. The partnership is a watershed and fire management effort between the Karuk Tribe, Six Rivers National Forest, the Mid-Klamath and Salmon River Watershed Councils, community fire-safe councils, local stakeholders, Klamath Forest Alliance, EPIC and others. The mission is to establish and maintain resilient ecosystems, communities, and economies guided by cultural and contemporary knowledge through a truly collaborative process that effectuates the revitalization of continual human relationships with our dynamic landscape.
Working together towards shared values and zones of agreement the partnership created a strategic fire plan for 1.2 million acres. It includes the entire Salmon River watershed, a portion of the Middle Klamath River between Weitchpec and Seiad Valley, and parts of the Siskiyou, Marble Mountain, and Trinity Alps wilderness areas. It spans two national forests—the Klamath and Six Rivers—and includes the communities of Weitchpec, Orleans, Somes Bar, Forks of Salmon, Cecilville, Sawyers Bar, Happy Camp, Seiad Valley, and much of the Karuk Tribe’s ancestral territory.
Historically, the Western Klamath Mountains experienced fire every 3 to 10 years. That includes cultural burning by indigenous tribes practiced since time immemorial. Northern California is fortunate that fire is still a vital part of the living culture here today, as shown by the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation. It is spreading more widely as understanding and cooperation grows. Traditional burning practices are helping to guide the strategies of our future.
Fire rejuvenates and helps to balance forest ecosystems. The ecological benefits are immeasurable. The partnership aims to mitigate the current fire deficit by implementing their Plan for Restoring Fire Adapted Landscapes. Multiple values were spatially modeled over 1.2 million acres, resulting in a map highlighting prioritized areas most needed for treatment. The most critical places identified were around towns, neighborhoods and along strategic ridge tops and roads.
Implementation of the first demonstration project just began this year. The Somes Bar Integrated Fire Management project consists of nearly 50 miles of shaded fuel breaks and hand lines and 5,500 acres of manual, mechanical and prescribed fire treatments, concentrated around small communities. This and all future efforts will not only accelerate the development of fire-adapted communities and resilient forests, they will integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge; bring together food security, food sovereignty, and forest food and fiber resources; build local restoration stewardship and workforce capacity; increase cultural and community vitality; include maintenance to uphold effectiveness; advocate fisheries restoration; maintain and restore viable native plant and animal populations; build capacity for practitioner-based research and monitoring programs; and include inter-generational education programs and activities.
In addition, to put principle into practice, WKRP helps to host and organize the Klamath River TREX prescribed fire training and learning exchange. TREX trains people to implement prescribed burning, building their credentials and accomplishing restorative fire on hundreds of acres annually. The partnership coordinates the Klamath Fire Symposium, bringing together land and fire managers, researchers, scientists and interested stakeholders. The group is also working with fire planners to develop Potential Operation Delineations (PODs), thath use fire modeling and spatial information to identify and plan suppression strategies. Restoring fire on a large landscape requires many levels of understanding and cooperation.
Wildfires are sparking a national shift in law, policy and opinion. Social change in coping with the climate and biodiversity crisis is beginning to ignite. With the mission to revitalize our human relationship with fire and our dynamic landscape, WKRP is leading the path to increase the pace and scale of place-based restoration. Recognized as a national model, the partnership is helping to facilitate changes in fire and land management for communities across the west that are living with fire.