Prescribed burn

For generations, the Karuk Tribe set small fires in northwestern forests. This cleared excess brush, and promoted culturally important species like hazel.

Lake: “Those hazel sticks only produced long, straight, flexible, strong shoots after they were burned. Two springs later, those long straight skinny sticks are pruned, peeled, and woven into a basket.”

Frank Lake is a Karuk descendant and a research ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service. He says about a century ago, the Forest Service began requiring strict fire suppression, and forced tribes to stop using small fires to manage the forest.

But with no fire on the landscape, brush grew thick, and dry sticks and leaves accumulated. Add a warmer climate, and conditions are ripe for dangerous wildfires.

So the Forest Service is seeing wisdom in the old ways, and increasingly conducts controlled burns. The latest federal strategy for wildland fire management stresses the need to work with tribes …

Lake: “… to then incorporate traditional knowledge, cultural values, our tribal values and interests, into the landscape restoration strategies.”

The approach will help prevent wildfires and promote species that the tribes use for food, medicine, and making baskets.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Jan O'Brien was assistant editor and website manager at Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. She brought more than three decades of experience in environmental publishing and policy research and more...