These Ancient Tribes Have Been Preventing Forest Fires For Years, And Now They’re Being Asked To Help Once More

Mother Jones

Every year, California and much of the Pacific Northwest is on high alert due to the possible wildfires that tend to blaze throughout their terrain during the dry and windy summer months.

Meanwhile, in the Klamath Mountains of northern California, fires often light up the underbrush and as a result, end up torching anything and everything they pass, including the giant trees in the area.

Except these fires in the Klamath Mountains aren’t actually an issue, nor are they a danger to the huge, hardwood forests that cause major forest fires and millions in loses because of damage to the land, to homes, and to families living in those areas.

In fact, these fires are set on purpose by the Yurok and Karuk tribal nations as wildfire prevention strategy. It may sound incredibly strange, even contradictory, to start fires in order to stop fires, but according to oral tradition, these two tribes have been doing this for around 1,000 years already.

These controlled and low-level fires are old and ancient practices that have helped successfully manage the forest for years. When a forest floor is cleared of finer fuels like ferns and leaves, there are less chances for these wildfires to catch fire and spread.

For the last half-decade, wildfires have rampaged all across California for the last 5 years at an unimaginable pace. Because of this, the U.S. Forest Service and the tribal nations of the Klamath Mountains have formed a partnership.

In the year 2018, they collaborated with the Somes Bar Restoration Project to learn and use the traditional fire techniques to help protect the 2,254 hectares, which translates to 5,570 acres of land filled with a variety of trees like Douglas fir, red fir, white, black and tan oaks, and madrones that are found on these mountainous slopes.

What they’ve seen from their joint efforts has been encouraging, they said. By taking out all the clutter normally found on the forest floors, they allow the mature trees to grow out even more, while being able to access the much-needed nutrients needed from the soil faster than before. This allows an increase in the seed germination of the bigger tree species, which provides clearer visibility and paths throughout the forest floors through the trees.

According to a report in Mongabay, a number of forest managers have witnessed these wildfires reach the edges of the forests that are managed by the Karuk and Yurok tribes and instead of burning through, the fires all went out on their own because there was less foliage on the forest floors, and bigger and healthier trees.

However, scientists continue to claim that these wildfires have been more destructive and intense due to climate change. But all throughout Australia, North America and Europe, many others understand that by using traditional land management techniques have helped stop huge forest fires for thousands of years.

In Europe, much like what shepherds do with their flocks that are allowed to pass through the fields to eat their fill, they also allow small and controlled fires to go through the forest underbrush to remove all the leaves and woody shrubs, something that the Aborigines in Australia did as well. And this is also something that Native Americans were known to do too.

Unfortunately, over the last 100 years, these traditional forest fire management strategies have almost disappeared, mostly due to all the red tape from government management that has stopped the tribes from doing what they have been doing so well for years.

But hopefully, by returning to some of these strategies, the hope is that these forest fires will no longer be a threat to both humanity and Mother Earth.


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