Climate change poses a threat not only to the Klamath ecosystem, but to Karuk culture which is intimately intertwined with the presence, use and management of cultural use species (Karuk Tribe 2010, Lake et al. 2010, Norgaard 2005). The larger concept of “climate change” refers to systems at the atmospheric level that are quite abstracted from local circumstances. This report engages one dimension of the changing climate – that of the increasing frequency of high severity wildfire. Several things are clear from our efforts. While both the causes and consequences of increasing high severity fires are complex, there are multiple opportunities for proactive action. In the context of climate change, Karuk tribal knowledge and management principles regarding fire can be utilized to protect public as well as tribal trust resources (Karuk Tribe 2012). Prescribed fire is now understood as a means of reducing not only fire intensity and severity, but also carbon emissions (Wiedinmeyer and Hurteau 2010). Restoring fire processes and function is about restoring the human responsibility. The development of tribal climate change programs that reflect the nature of indigenous rights to these lands, territories and resources is a critical part of ensuring sustained access to and preservation of cultural resources, life ways, and identity of the Karuk people. While a detailed Climate Adaptation Plan is needed in follow up to this Climate Vulnerability Assessment, we nonetheless note these preliminary recommendations:

  • Conduct additional Climate Vulnerability Assessments to evaluate the ways in which cultural use species, tribal program capacity, and tribal management authority may be affected by additional climate stressors such as changing patterns of temperature and precipitation, and species invasions.
  • Develop a Climate Adaptation Plan based on this assessment and expand upon it as additional vulnerabilities are assessed.
  • Coordinate Climate Adaptation Plan outcomes with Forest Service Land and Resource Management Plan Revisions.
  • Expand Capacity of the Department of Natural Resources Eco-cultural Revitalization Branch to manage fire, and forestry proactively at the landscape scale:
    • Shift to management of fire intervals rather than fire ignitions in order to manage for the fires of the future; use planned and unplanned ignitions in the context of managing the fire event or interval in and adjacent to affected management unit(s)
    • Build capacities of Pikyav Field Institute/Environmental Education Program to progress research, monitoring, and adaptive management on an intergenerational level.
    • Build Capacity of NEPA/Environmental Planning Program to assist in forest plan revision and help progress NEPA coverage for landscape level fire resilience projects in perpetuity.
    • Build capacity of Integrated Wildland Fire Management Program to enable a multi-organizational type 3 prescribed fire, cultural burning, and managed wildfire training, implementation, and workforce development facility.
    • Develop pro-active plan to allow shift from status quo suppression approach to suppressing fire when critical fire weather will be coupled with extreme fire behavior conditions; while enabling planned ignitions to address deferred risk caused by taking suppression action.
    • Develop comprehensive database of fire activity, fuel loading, focal indicators and management priorities as basis for fire management response.
    • Expand landscape restoration efforts to reduce hazardous fuel loading utilizing prescriptions that manage for fire process and function as primary driver for vegetative composition and structure.
    • Expand use of cultural burning/prescribed fire and managed wildfire to restore and maintain appropriate fire frequency.
  • Reducing the extent of high severity fires with point protection fire management actions when unacceptable risk to shared values is identified. Address deferred risks for interval on shoulder season.
  • Develop strategies for returning cultural burning and other mitigation/fire remediation options for each of the habitat zones discussed in Chapter Three (e.g. low, middle and high elevation forest, grasslands, wet meadows, etc).
  • Develop strategies for returning cultural burning and other mitigation/fire remediation options for each of the species identified in the species profiles in Chapter Three; narrow focus to fewer indicator or focal species as further correlated with desired characteristic and desired uncharacteristic conditions in a given biophysical setting or deficit habitat type.
  • Develop specific adaptations for new forest conditions, e.g. how to continue burning when forest conditions are drier.
  • Develop specific fire ecology research priorities.
  • Ensure that future climate adaptation plans align with, or build upon, the management objectives and future desired conditions specified in the Karuk ECRMP. ECRMP management objectives that have been integrated or considered when developing this vulnerability assessment include reduction of fuel loading in various habitats, appropriate management response during wildland fire events, restoration of wetlands and associated wet/dry meadow habitats, upgrade and maintenance of transportation systems, and extirpated species reintroduction. A future, more comprehensive assessment should continue to reference (and more thoroughly fulfill the management objectives of) the Karuk ECRMP.
  • Ensure that future fire-related climate adaptation plans take into account the objectives and approaches of the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) and integrates the on-the-ground fire management and administrative lessons learned during the course of this partnership to date. The WKRP can serve as a model of collaborative land and fire management planning and implementation involving tribal, federal, local partners, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Examples of WKRP approaches that can be incorporated into a future climate adaptation plan include:
    • Develop community based Incident Management Teams to implement prescribed fire/cultural fire training exchange programs.
    • Create more efficient mechanisms to leverage local, tribal, state, federal, and NGO programs.
    • Increase capacity of diverse groups of fire practitioners to address policies and regulations that impede the large scale use of prescribed fire/cultural fire.


  • Consider re-securing funding for an official emissions inventory in Karuk aboriginal territory to have strong documentation outlining air particulate trends for the region. This can help monitor air quality in relation to human health, and can also provide data related to how different fire types affect particulate matter and how particulate matter levels benefit or negatively impact different species. Make air particulate data available to Tribal Clinics that can inform patients and help them prepare to cope with the impacts of high particulate exposure.
  • Incorporate material related to climate change, high severity fire and cultural burning into tribal environmental education programs for both youth and adults. When (and if) appropriate, involve tribal youth in cultural burning practices so traditional ecological knowledge regarding these practices is steadily passed on.
  • Develop or strengthen existing tribal GIS mapping efforts documenting geographic and fire-related information that may assist the Tribe in planning and interagency communication efforts. GIS layers that might be developed include fire occurrence, spread of fire, fire duration, intensity, severity and ignition cause, location of current structures (dwellings, tribal buildings, etc.), location of both main and traditional transportation routes, location of cultural use species, location and span of different habitat types in Karuk territory, and tribal management regimes and activities for these various habitats. Measures would be taken to omit or protect sensitive traditional ecological knowledge when developing GIS data and maps.
  • Assess the ways in which Karuk land management strategies in response to increased high severity fire risk may align or conflict with current Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) requirements. The ECRMP includes a management objective for reduction of fuel loading in and adjacent to degraded spotted owl habitat, which aims to protect existing owl populations and encourage dispersal to new stands. Future adaptation plans and actions should account for NWFP requirements. Where necessary, the Karuk Tribe should call for federal-tribal consultation to inform future forest plans and advocate for the habitat benefits of Karuk land management.
  • Develop legal mechanisms to ensure enforcement of existing federal tribal trust responsibilities at the local level.
  • Strengthen inter-governmental relationships at regional and national level as leverage to ensure local compliance to existing tribal trust responsibilities. Use the Tribe’s experience leading the WKRP effort as a model for future intergovernmental collaborative efforts. Challenges or hurdles faced during the WKRP process can also inform future collaborations.
  • Strengthen relationships with local collaborators and agencies to build capacity and expand understanding of Karuk tribal expertise and management goals.
  • Collaboratively develop inter-governmental fire response plan that prepares agencies and the Tribe for the subsequent fire seasons ahead of time, thereby reducing or entirely eliminating the need for emergency exemptions that lead to quick agency-led decisions that often have detrimental consequences for the Tribe and the region’s ecosystems.
  • Build upon the progress of the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership to restore fire process and function to Karuk Territory and beyond; engage our neighbors so they can help lead the way into a similar future.
  • Develop a proposal or other document that highlights the ways in which Karuk land management and expertise, particularly cultural burning, reduces burden of wildfire management and suppression on federal land managers, advances the objectives of the National Cohesive Strategy, and promotes environmental justice. Use this document to propose future management strategies and collaborations at the intergovernmental level.
  • Develop informational/training materials that describe Karuk presence, the importance of Karuk land management and traditional ecological knowledge in the Klamath basin, federal trust responsibilities, and tribal environmental justice and climate change concerns that can be delivered to federal agency staff, non-tribal firefighting personnel, and scientists working, or demonstrating interest in, the region, for the purposes of educating potential collaborators and reducing impacts to the Tribe and the region’s ecology due to uninformed decision-making.
  • Expand support for the Karuk Transportation Department in preparation for increased fire-related impacts to main access routes as well as traditional routes.
  • Expand support for Karuk Health Clinics to respond to fires, e.g. reviving the Department of Emergency Management and stocking Hepa filter air purifiers and clean air facilities

These and other steps are preliminary recommended actions based on this assessment. Yet the Karuk Tribe faces limitations in program capacity to implement these steps, and institutional barriers to their enactment. A number of these barriers would be alleviated simply by agencies following existing Federal Tribal Trust responsibilities (see Norgaard 2014a and 2014b). In other cases barriers to the proactive expansion of these strategies would be alleviated in the course of following through with non-binding more and ethical principles, such as those outlined in Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”


Anderson, M. Kat, and Michael G. Barbour. 2003. “Simulated indigenous management: a new model for ecological restoration in national parks.” Ecological Restoration 21.4: 269-277.

Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources [Karuk DNR]. 2010. “Karuk Tribe Draft Eco-Cultural Resources Management Plan.” (September 2, 2016).

Karuk Tribe 2012 Karuk Tribe Climate Change Profile Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge with Natural REsoruce Management. available online:

Lake, Frank; Tripp, Bill; Reed, Ron. 2010. “The Karuk Tribe, Planetary Stewardship, And World Renewal On The Middle Klamath River, California.” Ecological Society of America Bulletin. 147–149.

Norgaard, Kari M. 2005. “The Effects Of Altered Diet On The Health Of The Karuk People.” Submitted to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Docket # P-2082 on Behalf of the Karuk Tribe of California. (September 2, 2016).

Norgaard, Kari M. 2014a. Karuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Need for Knowledge Sovereignty: Social, Cultural and Economic Impacts of Denied Access to Traditional Management.” Karuk Tribe. Available online:

Norgaard, Kari M. 2014b. Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty: Practical Steps Towards Expanding the Application of Karuk Traditional Knowledge in the Face of Climate Change, Karuk Tribe. Available online:

Wiedinmyer, Christine, and Matthew D. Hurteau. 2010. “Prescribed fire as a means of reducing forest carbon emissions in the western United States.” Environmental science & technology 44.6: 1926-1932.

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