Karuk Climate Transportation Adaptation Plan

Download the Karuk Climate Transportation Adaptation Plan

Download the Karuk Climate Transportation Adaptation Plan Brief

Executive Summary

Travel throughout Karuk Aboriginal Territory is essential for everyday community activities, government infrastructure and functionality, and for emergency access and egress. Travel is essential for the Karuk government to carry out medical services, for Tribal Council members to carry out business, for fisheries and water quality staff to conduct research and monitoring along 130 miles of the Klamath River, and for tribal members to visit and access “usual and accustomed places.” Present day travel interruptions for the Karuk community from landslides, flooding, fire suppression/fire activity, snow and ice are significant. Within Karuk Aboriginal Territory the effects of climate change including increasing drought, increasing temperatures, decreased snowpack, increasing frequency and severity of wildfires, and increased precipitation variability are immediate and occurring now. Greater temperature differentials, overall warming temperatures and an increase in total winter precipitation are also producing more severe storms, more rain on snow events and the sudden, high-volume rainstorms known as “microbursts.” These changing patterns of temperature and precipitation translate into additional pressures on Karuk transportation infrastructure. This collaborative Karuk Tribe-Caltrans report builds upon the 2019 Karuk Climate Adaptation Plan.

            This report details sources of transportation vulnerability and proposed adaptations.

Existing transportation vulnerabilities in the mid-Klamath region are not only biophysical, they are also social, political and economic.  The historic economic and political disenfranchisement of Karuk people, the complexities of multiple agency jurisdictions, and ongoing lack of awareness of the needs, priorities and political status of Indigenous communities are compounding threats in the face of climate change. Climate planning work that fails to account for existing infrastructural violence shifts the burden of climate induced transportation vulnerability disproportionately onto the most disadvantaged communities.

  • The need for emergency access and egress is arguably the most immediate and urgent transportation issue related to the changing climate. Most if not all community members have faced emergency access or egress situations at some point in the last few years. Yet nearly half of those who responded to the 2019 Karuk Transportation Climate Survey reported that they do not have an alternate emergency access or egress route.
  • As of 2022, roads operation, maintenance and planning within Karuk Aboriginal Territory is carried out by seven different non-tribal entities in addition to the Karuk Tribe. Lack of coordination and communication within these many transportation agencies (and between these agencies and the Karuk Tribe) produces a major compounding dimension of hazard and vulnerability for the tribe and community in the face of climate change.
  • Transportation agencies and their staff must be aware of present day uses, values, desires and needs of tribal communities, as well as tribal political sovereignty and ongoing Indigenous sciences and management. Unrecognized jurisdiction impacts tribal management authority and program capacities, further exacerbating the existing inequalities faced by tribal nations in the context of climate change.
  • Responding to transportation interruptions and roads maintenance and planning in the context of unrecognized jurisdiction is enormously time consuming for Karuk tribal staff and creates safety hazards that put tribal staff and community at risk.
  • Many state funding sources are inaccessible due to misapplied labor requirements for permits and requirements for tribes to waive sovereign immunity. In other cases, state agencies violate tribal sovereignty by relating to tribes as contractors.
  • The Karuk Tribe must be able to dictate road planning and maintenance and be able to prevent unwanted activities from interfering with cultural and spiritual stewardship. Road closures within Karuk Aboriginal Territory without tribal permission violate tribal sovereignty.
  • Transportation infrastructure within Karuk Aboriginal Territory has long received lower statewide and regional prioritization due to lack of awareness on the part of non-tribal transportation management entities of the unique nature and needs of this remote Indigenous rural community. The current rating of Hwy 96 as a Tier 3 arterial highway coupled with use of the Average Annual Daily Traffic algorithm for prioritization fails to account for conditions on the ground. These fail to account for the high frequency of needs for emergency egress and the lack of existing alternate escape routes.
  • The Karuk Tribe is uniquely situated to identify vulnerabilities and propose adaptations that will tie the issues across jurisdictions. Non-Karuk entities lack the detail or specificity of tribal needs and values. The Karuk Transportation Program, Karuk tribal and DNR staff, and Karuk cultural practitioners are uniquely positioned to describe what is a stake in environmental reviews, to balance the complexity of impacts and needs at particular sites, and to develop appropriate transportation solutions as needed on the ground.

Key Proposed Adaptations Detailed in this Report Include:

  • Maintain roads listed in Table 4.7 (p 151) as alternate emergency routes.
  • Evaluate potential Statewide mechanisms for interagency coordination including potential legislative approaches, the use of Joint Powers Authority to convene a Transportation Association in Karuk Territory and/or evaluate potential for “CALFED” structured process between State and Federal Offices of Emergency Management.
  • To meet the Karuk Tribe’s climate adaptation needs, Caltrans needs to increase prioritization of Hwy 96 bridges, culverts, and roadways, including within climate adaptation planning efforts. Caltrans should consider altering the current prioritization scheme to address recurring inequitable distribution of resources for tribal communities.
  • Consider expanding activities and funding for the Karuk Office of Emergency Management and increasing internal coordination within relevant Karuk tribal departments to provide increased capacity on Karuk tribal side.
  • Work with tribal liaisons to explore existing shared stewardship mechanisms and mechanisms for increased tribal authority in transportation management.
  • Work with appropriate agency tribal liaisons to redesign procedures and policies regarding tribal relationships to reduce present infringements on tribal sovereignty within agency relations, especially in light of climate transportation needs.
  • Pursue Statewide and Federal legislative or executive actions to update protocols, procedures and policies regarding relationships with Tribes in light of climate transportation needs. Implement required Karuk led training on Karuk sovereignty and needs for non-tribal agency staff and contractors before working on Karuk land.