Chapter 2: Fire Exclusion and Changing Patterns of Fire Behavior

This document evaluates the vulnerabilities faced by the Karuk tribe in light of the increasing frequency of high severity fire within Karuk ancestral territory. Yet unlike widespread conceptions of fire as ‘bad,’ fire is an essential component of Karuk cultural practice and ecosystem health. Fire is medicine. Fire is referenced in our creation stories and is part of our world renewal ceremonies. As Karuk Director of Natural Resources and spiritual leader Leaf Hillman puts it, “We are closely related to fire. Fire takes care of us and we take care of fire.” Fire takes care of people in part by enhancing the availability and quality of food resources. Ecologist Kat Anderson (2005) describes the ecological benefits of indigenous burning:

When Indian women or men set hillsides on fire, they not only spurred the growth of young sprouts from shrubs and trees but also opened up areas to increased sunlight, heightened the structural complexity of forest, woodland, and shrubland habitats, stimulated the seed germination rates of seral and serotinous species, recycled nutrients for the whole community, altered insect populations, and promoted increased biodiversity. Periodic burning encouraged native annuals, grasses, and herbaceous perennials to grow under shrubs and trees, creating a healthy understory that enhanced the permeability of the soil surface, checked surface erosion, increased rates of nutrient cycling, enhanced soil fertility, and provided food and habitat for animal species, thus increasing biodiversity and the possibility of mutualistic community interactions. . . (p. 238).

Fires may be understood to be beneficial or hazardous to the extent that they support desired ecosystem conditions and cultural values. Karuk people have used fire to enhance foods, fibers and medicines and to benefit other species since time immemorial. Across California the use of fire by Native people generated profound food productivity and biodiversity. The policy of suppressing fire was intended to allow as many conifers as possible to reach maturity for commercial timber (Show & Kotok 1923).

DillonMtn_fireline2_111009

 Landscape altering fire line above Dillon Creek. Photo: Klamath-Salmon Media Collaborative

Regardless of the contrasting values of commercial timber harvest or subsistence cultural uses, the mid- Klamath ecosystem is fire adapted (Cocking et al. 2012, Skinner et al. 2006, Taylor and Skinner 2003). Together with alterations of the global climate system from fossil fuel emissions, the alteration of local fire regimes over the past century has led to the increase in the size and frequency of high severity fires within Karuk ancestral territory (Dalton et al 2013). It is this new pattern of fires that pose vulnerabilities for Karuk species of importance, tribal programs, and management authority as discussed in this assessment.

During fires, cultural resource advisors work alongside fire fighters to keep suppression52 activities from damaging cultural resources. But fire itself is a cultural resource vital more so than ever in the context of climate change. The actions of agencies prior to, during and after fires threaten this resource by creating conditions under which fire cannot or is not being used as a pro-active management tool. These barriers to the use of fire range from explicit and implicit regulations, to discourses of fire as bad through Smokey Bear
campaigns, and the added challenge of using fire in the face of artificially high fuel loads from past fire suppression and other forms of non- indigenous management. The continued ability of Karuk people to use fire on the land is essential to a host of inter-related social processes including physical and mental health and political sovereignty. Karuk Cultural Biologist Ron Reed explains this relationship:

Without fire the landscape changes dramatically. And in that process the traditional foods that we need for a sustainable lifestyle become unavailable after a certain point. So what that does to the tribal community, the reason we are going back to that landscape is no longer there. So the spiritual connection to the landscape is altered significantly. When there is no food, when there is no food for regalia species, that we depend upon for food and fiber, when they aren’t around because there is no food for them, then there is no reason to go there. When we don’t go back to places that we are used to, accustomed to, part of our lifestyle is curtailed dramatically. So you have health consequences. Your mental aspect of life is severed from the spiritual relationship with the earth, with the Great Creator. So we’re not getting the nutrition that we need, we’re not getting the exercise that we need, and we’re not replenishing the spiritual balance that creates harmony and diversity throughout the landscape.

This chapter provides background information, history and context on the importance of fire in order to contextualize the vulnerabilities emerging from increasing frequency of high severity fire resulting from climate change that forms the basis of this assessment. The chapter first outlines the ecological and cultural importance of fire, then provides a brief summary of fire suppression over the last century, and finally engages changing patterns of fire behavior in light of climate change. We emphasize the notion that humans are ecosystem components at both the local and global scale. Ultimately, restoring our fire practices and regimes is about restoring the human responsibility to other species.

Fires vary dramatically, as do perspectives on and understandings of fire. In particular, fires vary by intensity, severity, frequency and size. Fire ecology is complex — detailed engagement with this topic is beyond the scope of this report. Key qualities emphasized here include fire intensity and fire severity. The US Forest Service Fire Effects Information Systems glossary defines fire intensity as “a general term relating to the heat energy released in a fire.” Many fires burn with a mosaic of intensities – burning very hot in certain patches and cooler in others. Traditional Karuk burning is mostly low intensity fire, but high intensity fire has specific ecological benefits as well. In contrast, fire severity indicates “the degree of environmental change caused by fire” (USFS ND). Severity is normally evaluated in terms of the degree of mortality of dominant overstory vegetation (e.g. trees) — ranging from low severity in the case of non-lethal surface fires, to high severity stand-replacing crown fires (see also Agee 1993, Keeley 2009). In this assessment, we use “high severity fire” to refer to fire that leads to severe soil damage and consumption of most live vegetation, including but not limited to fire that replaces entire stands and affects high percentages of the upper canopy layer.

The mid-Klamath region has long experienced “mixed-severity wildfires” with combinations of surface, torching, and crown fire resulting in an overall mosaic of low and high intensity burned areas and patches of live and dead understory and overstory vegetation throughout the fire footprint (Agee 1993, Halofsky et al. 2011, Taylor and Skinner 1998). In recent decades California has experienced an increase in the frequency of high severity fire. Valliant et al. 2015 describe:

The transformation of fuel conditions, coupled with a changing climate, has altered the fire regime in coniferous forests typified by historically high- frequency and low-to-moderate-severity fires (e.g. Westerling et al. 2006; Miller et al. 2009; Mallek et al. 2013 ;Stephens et al. 2013; Safford and Van de Water 2014). In California, a recent analysis of fire return interval departure found low- and middle-elevation dry coniferous forests to be the most departed, meaning they have missed multiple fire cycles (Safford and Van de Water 2014). In addition, when wildfires occur in these systems, they now often burn over a larger extent and at a higher severity than in the past (Miller et al. 2009; Mallek et al. 2013).

Future climate projections indicate fifty percent or greater increases in areas burned and doubling in the frequency of fires (Fried et al. 2004). In their comprehensive review of climate trends in the Pacific Northwest, Daton et al. (2013) note “Climate influences both vegetation growth prior to the fire season and short-term vegetation moisture during the fire season, which influence fire-season activity. Fire activity in most NW forests tends to increase with higher summer temperature and lower summer precipitation. In one study, regional area burned is projected to increase by 0.3, 0.6, and 1.5 million acres by the 2020s, 2040s, and 2080s, respectively” (p. xxx). Yet as Littell et al. (2009) note trends of increasing fire size may be less ecologically meaningful than measures of fire severity: “Differences in ecoprovince vegetation and climate-fire relationships also imply that the area burned by fire does not mean the same thing ecologically in all places. Fire severity is probably a much better indicator of the ecological effects of a fire, large or small, on an ecosystem. The relationship between climate and fire severity, measured across different vegetation types, might give better insight into the future effects of climate than area burned alone” (p. 1017). 54This increase in the size and frequency of high severity fire is a result of both climate change and non-tribal management actions that have increased fuel loads including fire suppression, changes in species composition and the contiguous nature of fuels, the establishment of even age plantations and untreated logging slash (Dalton et al. 2013).

The frequency and size of fires is also changing: Miller et al. (2012) found that across the four National Forests in Northern California during the nearly 100 year period from 1910 to 2008, both mean and maximum fire size and the total annual area burned had increased. While the increasing frequency of large fires is of concern to many, fire suppression has created a “fire deficit” within Karuk ancestral territory (Parks et al. 2015). Fires tend to be larger areas for longer periods of time when they are more severe, but cooler, low intensity fires may burn over large areas bringing many cultural and ecological benefits. This fire deficit in combination with the increasing trend towards warmer and drier conditions in light of climate change means that more fire is coming. One aim of this report is to enable the beneficial management of these future fires. Karuk DNR Deputy Director Bill Tripp notes, “The tribal perspective is that we need to embrace fire again and revitalize the culture of fire use, otherwise we stay with the fear-driven approach of the current fire suppression paradigm. We need to be managing the fires of the future through our actions today.” As the recommendations of this report will note, part of managing for the fires of the future entails a shift to managing fire intervals rather than fire ignitions (see Conclusion).

[Video: Bill Tripp, Deputy Director of Eco-Cultural Revitalization for the Karuk Tribe talks about fisher habitat and cultural use species at Bacon Flat in Orleans, CA.]

Karuk Use of Fire as Cultural and Ecological Practice
The ecology of the mid-Klamath region, including the distribution and abundance of species, has been fundamentally shaped by Karuk cultural practices, especially the use of fire. Over three quarters of Karuk traditional food and cultural use species are enhanced by fire (Personal communication; Tripp, 2013; intergenerational traditional ecological knowledge; Norgaard, 2013). Skinner et al. (2006) write that “Native people of the Klamath Mountains used fire in many ways: (1) to promote production of plants for food (e.g., acorns, berries, roots) and fiber (e.g., basket materials); (2) for ceremonial purposes; and (3) to improve hunting conditions” (p. 176). The Karuk Draft Management Plan notes that “[f]ire caused by natural and human ignitions affects the distribution, abundance, composition, structure and morphology of trees, shrubs, forbs, and grasses” (2010, p. 4). The practice of burning is also central to cultural, social and spiritual practices. As Bill Tripp describes:

They used to roll burning logs off the top of Offield Mountain as part of the World Renewal Ceremony in September, right in the height of fire season so that whole mountain was in a condition to where it wouldn’t burn hot. It would burn around to some rocky areas and go out. It would burn slow. Creep down the hill over a matter of days until it just finally went out. When it rained it would go out and that’s what we wanted it to do.

Karuk tribal members have responsibilities to tend to and care for the food and cultural use species we consider as relations. Amongst the activities that Karuk people are supposed to do to fulfill our responsibility is to use fire as a form of management. People burned to facilitate forest quality for food species like elk, deer, acorns, mushrooms and lilies. We burned for basketry materials such as hazel and willow, and also to keep open travel routes. Karuk people managed for our own foods and uses, but our activities created abundance that benefited other species as well. Dr. Frank Lake, Karuk Descendant and USDA Forest Service research ecologist, describes what he was taught and learned of Karuk culture: “As a human, you have a caretaking responsibility. And so you managed areas to share acorns, to share mushrooms, to share berries to share grass seeds.”

From an ecological standpoint, the use of fire has benefits on multiple scales ranging from landscape level impacts to enhancing the conditions for specific species (Anderson 2005). Lake and Long (2014) note “Traditional burning practices served as a disturbance that not only maintained desired growth forms of individual plants, but also promoted desired plant communities across broader scales” (p. 179). Anderson (2005) describes the importance of burning to release phosphorus and encourage nitrogen fixing plants. She notes the multidimensional benefits of burning including:

Burning opened up areas to increased sunlight, allowing shade-intolerant herbaceous plants—some of which fire ecologists dub “fire-followers”—to come to life from hidden seed banks and quiescent bulbs. Sun-loving plants such as lilies, brodiaeas, soaproot, and wild onions appeared and attracted numerous wildlife species such as deer, bears, and gophers. The light fires characteristic of the indigenous style of burning increased the structural complexity of communities in two dimensions. Vertically, they increased the variety of plant physiognomies, helping to establish layers of herbs, shrubs, and trees at different, distinct heights. Horizontally, they increased the patchiness of the community, ensuring greater heterogeneity of leaf cover and species composition. For certain species, these fires also functioned to maintain a greater variety of age and size classes of individuals (pp. 238- 239).

Specific uses of fire vary by cultural practitioner according to specific habitat types and family needs. Chapter Three contains further discussion of the Karuk use of fire within low, mid and high elevation forest types, high country, wet meadows and grasslands. A primary outcome of fire across many forest and grassland habitat types is reducing brush and conifer encroachment, with the resulting hydrological benefits to riverine systems, and the generation of an open forest canopy structure that supports the presence of the many traditional foods and cultural use species that require such conditions (Anderson 2005). Lake and Long (2014) describe the complexity of habitat mosaics that result across the landscape from the use of fire: “Traditional burning practices occurred at different frequencies and during different seasons, with ignition strategies that varied according to the goals of fire use (Anderson 1999). These practices fostered a mosaic of vegetation types in different stages across landscapes, which promoted food security (Charnley et al. 2008, Kimmerer and Lake 2001)” (p. 179).

At the level of individual species, cultural burning enhances the growth and productivity of key food sources such as tanoak acorns and the many other species discussed in more depth in Chapter Three. Karuk knowledge of fire as a sophisticated pest management technique and to benefit deer and elk is reflected in a 1916 letter to the California Fish and Game Commission by Klamath River Jack, Published 1916 in a Requa, California newspaper as, “An Indian’s View of Burning and a Reply:”

“Indians have no medicine to put on all the places where bug and worms are, so he burn. Every year Indian burn. Fire burn up old acorn that fall on ground.
Old acorn on ground have lots worm; no burn old acorn, no burn old bark, old leaves, bugs and worms come more every year. Fire make new sprout for deer and elk to eat and kill lots brush so always have plenty open grass land for grass. No fire brush grow quick and after while choke out all grass and make too much shade, then grass get sour, no good for eat. No fire then too much leaf stay on ground. No grass can grow up. Too much dead leaf, grass get sour. Indian burn every year just same, so keep all ground clean, no bark, no dead leaf, no old wood on ground, no old wood on brush, so no bug can stay to eat leaf and no worm can stay to eat berry and acorn. Not much on ground to make hot fire so never hurt big trees, where fire burn. Now White Man never burn; he pass law to stop all fire in forest and wild pasture . . .

Klamath River Jack, 1916

Of course, regular burning reduces the overall fuel load in the forest, greatly diminishing the probability of major damage to tanoak stands from intense fires.

The Mid Klamath area that makes up Karuk ancestral territory and homelands is known for its biological abundance (DellaSalla et al. 1999, Sawyer 2007, Sleeter et al 2012). This exceptional biological diversity has emerged in conjunction with sophisticated Karuk land management practices, including the regulation of the forest and fisheries through ceremony and the use of fire (Kimmerer & Lake, 2001; Lake, Tripp & Reed, 2010; Salter, 2003; Anderson, 2005 and 2006). Indeed, the species abundance and diversity of this region cannot be understood outside the broader tribal management activities that produced them (Agee & Skinner, 2005; Lake, 2013; Anderson, 2002; Lewis, 1993; Martin & Sapsis 1992). Our region contains for example not just one, but many species of oaks valued as food.

Karuk fire management is specifically linked to biodiversity. Robert Martin’s writes, “pyrodiversity creates biodiversity.” Karuk fire regimes generate pyrodiversity 58on the landscape by extending the season of burn, decreasing average fire size, and shortening fire return intervals. The multitude of foods, materials and other products that come from Karuk environments are a manifestation of the profound diversity of Karuk fire regimes across the landscape. The presence of these hundreds of animal, plant, and mushroom species are evidence of the sophistication of Karuk knowledge, management practices and ability of people to maintain our relationships with the land.

By contrast, today we have regulatory requirements such as the need to protect Spotted Owl habitats that are in all reality a byproduct of fire exclusion. Owls are known in Karuk culture to be messengers of sickness and death. In the face of a century of failed management policy, the Spotted Owl has emerged at the messenger of an unhealthy environment. The places where their prime nesting and roosting habitats once were are now dense plantation thickets. As a result, the owls don’t have access to the food base hiding in these thickets, and the stand structure in areas of high insolation are transitioning to type of habitat typically identified as suitable for nesting and roosting. However, these areas are more prone to high severity fire that is a causal factor in the continued decline of the species and decline in forest heath. In receiving the message the Spotted Owl provides, we must intervene and change the paradigm that will cause the extinction of the species, or the rest of the system will continue to crash.

Changing Patterns of Fire Behavior: Local and Global Management Actions
Land management techniques since the 1900s have emphasized fire suppression and the “exclusion” of wildfire. Fire exclusion has led to radical ecological changes including high fuel loads, decreased habitat for large game such as elk and deer, reduction in the quantity and quality of acorns, and alteration of growth patterns of basketry materials such as hazel and willow, to name but a few examples. From a Karuk perspective, the exclusion of fire from the landscape creates a situation of denied access to traditional foods and spiritual practices puts cultural identity at risk and infringes upon political sovereignty. On a more individual level, the altered forest conditions create social strain for the individuals who hold the responsibilities to tend to specific places and to provide food to the community for subsistence as well as ceremonial purposes (Norgaard 2014).

In their work on the Klamath mountain region, fire ecologists Skinner, Taylor and Agee (2006) identify “two periods with distinctly different fire regimes: (1) the Native American period, which usually includes both the pre-historic and European settlement period, and (2) the fire suppression period” (p. 176). The authors also note that:

Over the 400 years prior to effective fire suppression, there are no comparable fire-free periods when large landscapes experienced decades without fires simultaneously across the bioregion (Agee 1991; Wills and Stuart 1994; Taylor and Skinner 1998, 2003; Stuart and Salazar 2000; Skinner 2003a, 2003b). Along with these changes in the fire regimes are changes in landscape vegetation patterns. Before fire suppression, fires of higher spatial complexity created openings of variable size within a matrix of forest that was generally more open than today (Taylor and Skinner 1998). This heterogeneous pattern has been replaced by a more homogenous pattern of smaller openings in a matrix of denser forests (Skinner 1995a). Thus, spatial complexity has been reduced (p. 178-179).

Across the western United States a similar pattern occurs. As noted in the 2012 Report of Phase III of the Wildland Fire Cohesive Management Strategy,

Practices such as pruning, burning and coppicing at regular intervals once contributed significantly to historic landscape resiliency and community livelihood. Access to abundant and quality hunting, fishing, and gathering areas as well as other traditional, ceremonial, or religious fire use factors have experienced significant decline following fire exclusion (USDA, 2012, p. 30).

The Wildland Fire Cohesive Management Strategy affirms that in the face of continued fire exclusion, Native American cultural identity and traditional ecological knowledge are both at risk (2012, p. 30).

Fire and Climate Change
As noted, climate change is contributing to increases in wildfires across the western United States (Joyce et al. 2014, Dalton et al. 2013, Mote et al. 2003), with overall trends towards more frequent, larger fires (Westerling et al. 2006), larger portions of fires burning at high intensity, and increased frequency of high severity fires (Valliant et al. 2015). The average number of fires over 1,000 acres has doubled in California since the 1970s and across the west the number of fires over 10,000 acres is now about seven times greater than it was in the 1970s (Odion et al. 2009). Odion et al. (2009) also find that “Large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons” (p. 940). These changes in fire behavior are partly a function of changing patterns of precipitation and temperature, decreasing snowpack, earlier snowpack melt, and increasing pest infections resulting from global climate change (Dalton et al. 2013, Weserling 2016).

These climate drivers influence fire behavior through a complex interplay of factors. For example, longer and more intense droughts decrease soil moisture, causing direct tree mortality and providing fewer opportunities for precipitation to extinguish fires. Increase in the spread of insect pests can both weaken trees and cause direct mortality, making them more vulnerable to fire. As a result, warmer and drier years have generally correspond to increased fire activity (Heyerdahl et al. 2008, Marlon et al. 2008, Littell et al. 2009, Westerling et al. 2006). Increased biomass production in forests due to a combination of higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and longer growing seasons also increases fire likelihood in some parts of the West. Decreasing snowpack has led to an increase in fires at higher elevations that would otherwise be covered in snow (Westerling 2016). This pattern too has been observed in the mid-Klamath in recent years. Karuk fisheries biologist Toz Soto describes, “Fire behavior under drought conditions and climate change is different today than we’ve seen the past. In 2008, the “Panther Fire” killed large stands of old growth trees within riparian areas. Riparian areas typically do

not burn hot enough to kill large trees, but a new trend of stand replacing fire in riparian areas is major threat to water quality due to the loss of riparian shade where rising water temperatures are a problem for cold water dependent fish.”

Not only has there been an expansion of areas burned, the length of the fire season has also been increasing across California and fire behavior is different than expected (Westerling 2016). Higher winds together with drier conditions and a complex of other factors lead to rapidly spreading fires of much higher severity on the Klamath, especially in the last ten years. For example, in 2014, the “July Complex” fire started in the high country. Observes describe how sustained 50 mile per hour winds caused it to burn 12,000 acres in 6 hours with nothing surviving in its path. Another aspect of fire behavior seen recently on the Klamath concerns ignition sources. In 2014, fires in the July Complex started not only from the typical source of lighting strikes, but fire itself generated a pyro-cumulus cloud that started a dozen other spot fires. As Bill Tripp notes, “I believe the July Complex blowup caused something like 22 additional lightning strikes between Tanner Peak and the Oregon border starting about a dozen new fires. This is the first time I have seen a pyrocumulus cloud develop of this magnitude. I have never seen one actually start new fires via lightning ignition, I mean, that is approaching volcanic fire behavior.”

In their summary of climate impacts on the Six Rivers National Forest Butz and co- authors (2015) write:

“Data on forest fire frequency, size, and total area burned all show strong increases in California over the last two to three decades. Westerling et al. (2006) showed that increasing frequencies of large fires (>1000 acres) across the western United States since the 1980’s were strongly linked to increasing temperatures and earlier spring snowmelt. Northern California forests have had substantially increased wildfire activity, with most wildfires occurring in years with early springs (Westerling et al. 2006)” (P 13)

Attention to these increases in wildfire activity is gaining momentum and attention in the context of global, national, statewide and regional climate planning efforts. Understanding global and national trends in fire behavior is important for highlighting the influence of climate change. At the same time, the dynamics of changing fire behavior vary significantly according to local climatic conditions, forest habitat types and land use histories. Thus it is critical to couch any discussion of increasing wildfire activity resulting from climate change in the context of increased fuel loading from fire suppression, changes in the species composition of forest stands, and logging practices. As Westerling et al. (2006) note: “Extensive livestock grazing and increasingly effective fire suppression began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reducing the frequency of large surface fires. Forest regrowth after extensive logging beginning in the late 19th century, combined with an absence of extensive fires, promoted forest structure changes and biomass accumulation, which now reduce the effectiveness of fire suppression and increase the size of wildfires and total area burned” (p. 940).

While forests across California have missed multiple fire cycles due to fire suppression, 62the low- and mid-elevation vegetation types such as oak woodlands and mixed-conifer forests that are the subject of this assessment are amongst those forest types missing the most fire cycles (see specific work by Safford and Van de Water 2014). Butz and co-authors (2015) note that the increases in wildfire activity in the Klamath region is “likely attributable to both climate and land-use effects” (p. 18) given that “More than 85 percent of Forest Service lands in NW California are burning either less frequently or much less frequently currently than under the pre-Euro-American settlement fire regime, as
compared with 67 percent of Forest Service and National Park Service lands in the Sierra Nevada and 19 percent in southern California” (p. 18, see also Safford and Van de Water 2014). Such fuel build up is a significant contributing factor leading to the larger, more severe fires taking place in the Klamath region (Agee 2002, Arno and Allison-Bunnel 2002, Covington 2000).

In addition to fire suppression, other factors such as the prevalence of tree plantations and past logging activities are associated with the trends towards increasing fire severity. Odion et al. (2004) note “Even age silviculture can increase fire hazard by creating more combustible fuel complexes” (928, see also Weatherspoon and Skinner) “While forests across California have missed multiple fire cycles due to fire suppression, the low- and mid- elevation vegetation types such as oak woodlands and mixed- conifer forests that are the subject of this assessment are amongst those forest types missing the most fire cycles.” 1995). Plantations burn at higher severity than do “natural” forests (Key 2000, Weatherspon and Skinner 1995). Furthermore, the fact that high severity fires are often re- planted with commercial species, creates a negative feedback loop leading towards more high severity fires in the future (Odion et al. 2004).

There is much use of the phrase ‘catastrophic fire’ in the literature on climate change. While the changing patterns of fire behavior can and do cause problems for particular landscapes and human communities at any given time, terms like ‘catastrophic’ are not only heavily value laden, they perpetuate the same fear-based orientation to fire that produced the paradigm of extreme fire suppression. Use of the term ‘catastrophic’ in relation to fire elevates this perception of fire as “dangerous” and “bad.” Use of the term further erodes Karuk tribal management authority by making it harder to use fire in a proactive way through prescribed burning.

Future Fire Forecasts
Regardless of the particular constellation of drivers for increasing fire trends in past decades, climate models point to significantly larger increases in fire activity in the future (Mote et al. 2003). At the state level climate projections forecast of summer temperature increases between 2 and 5°C and precipitation decreases of up to 15 percent (Running 2006). These and associated conditions such as pest outbreaks and increased biomass production, promote a continued increase in fire activity.

Global climate models operate on large spatial scales relative to fire regimes, and projections for precipitation in the western United States vary among individual models (Price et al., 2004). Climate projections for the western United States indicate average decreases in precipitation, yet the Northwest may be drier only during summers (IPCC, 2007, Seager et al., 2007) and some climate models even project an increase in annual average precipitation in California (Price et al., 2004). While there are fewer specific projections available for the Klamath, Butz et al. (2015) report

In the Pacific Northwest, longer, hotter, and drier fire seasons are projected under future climate change scenarios, and the area burned by wildfires is projected to increase as a result (Wimberly and Liu 2014). Temperature has been shown to strongly influence fire frequency and area burned, and increased temperatures will lead to increased fire frequency and size (Pausas 2004, Spracklen et al. 2009, Guyette et al 2012). Westerling and Bryant (2008) predict a 10-35% increase in large fire risk by midcentury in California and Nevada, and Westerling et al. (2011) projected increases in burned area of up to 4+ times the current levels in area shrublands and forestlands by the end of the century. The MC1 runs reported in Barr et al. (2010) project increases in annual fire area in the Klamath River Basin of 11- 22% by 2100, resulting in as many as 330,000 acres (134,000 ha) burned in an average year” (p. 18).

Understanding precise relationships between global climatic trends, fuel loading and other forest management actions on the increasing severity of fires is difficult if not impossible to determine. Regardless, it is now clear that both global climatic drivers in the form of carbon emissions, and the local management actions that 64shape changes in fire behavior are the direct result of untenable non-Native management decisions. Climate change is anthropogenic, or human caused. Predicted climactic changes described here are not ‘inevitable’ acts of nature, but the direct result of the human use of fossil fuels and the generation of other climate gases. Nor is climate change an inevitable outgrowth of human activity. Humans have existed on earth for a long time. The organization of economic activity around fossil fuel extraction and use results from specific and very recent management decisions undertaken according to the logics of capitalism and colonialism.

Regardless of the relative weight of influence from global climate change or fire suppression, a return to indigenous fire management is a beneficial proactive action to shape when, how and where fires occur. Our traditional management practices prevent the build-up of fuels that could lead to catastrophic fire events as well as manage for healthy stands of acorn bearing oaks, forage for large ungulates, and for other foods, fibers, and medicinal plants. Due in part to these thousands of years of purposeful fire management, the forests of this region are ecologically dependent on fires that are low in heat production, or “cooler” fires. Yet paradoxically large scale impacts from climate change are exempt from regulation, while the potential solutions in the form of traditional management have imposed regulatory barriers (Wiedinmyer and Hurteau 2010). Achieving balance in the human interacted natural fire regime by restoring and managing landscape resilience to change with time tested TEK is a priority in Karuk country. Taking action sooner rather than later is however important as these climatic changes make it ever more difficult to conduct the lower intensity burns that best regenerate resilient forest habitat dynamics.

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