Since time immemorial, Karuk people have lived in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains in the mid- Klamath River region of northern California. With an Aboriginal Territory that includes an estimated 1.38 million acres, the ancestral people of the Karuk resided in more than one hundred villages along the Klamath and Salmon Rivers and tributaries (see Figure 1). Thriving with a subsistence economy supported by rich natural endowments and a strong culture-based commitment to land stewardship, Karuk environmental management has shaped the region’s ecological conditions for millennia. Through carefully observing natural processes, the Karuk have developed traditional management regimes based on a landscape-level ecosystem approach. Self-described as “fix the world people”, the Karuk continue ceremonies that restore balance and renew the world.
The Karuk Tribe is a federally recognized Indian Tribe (73 Fed. Reg. 18,535, 18, 544 (April 4, 2008). The Tribe’s Territory is the land base that was utilized in the process of receiving federal determination of tribal recognition. The Tribe continues to exercise jurisdiction over Tribal Lands. The Karuk Tribe governs reservation and trust lands, as well as fee parcels within Karuk Aboriginal Territory. The Karuk Tribe is a self-governing Tribe employing roughly ~231 staff and with an annual operating budget of ~$37 million the main tasks of which are to develop programs, policies and departments to administer services to Karuk people and to uphold responsibilities to care for the land. The governmental structure includes nearly twenty departments, programs, and services organized into three service districts. The geographic area is remote, with a single major highway connecting the 120 miles along the Klamath river between these districts. Administrative offices, government operations, the Karuk Community Development Corporation (KCDC) and the Karuk People’s Center are located in Happy Camp, the Department of Natural Resources is located in Orleans and Somes Bar, and the Karuk Judicial System is located in Yreka. Health clinics, education and elders programs, housing authority offices, community computer centers, tribal court services, and human services/Indian Child Welfare programs are located in each of the three main population centers.
The Karuk Tribe interacts with other governments and agencies operating within Karuk ancestral territory. Electrical power (where available) is supplied by Pacific Gas and Electric and Pacific Power; Orleans and Happy Camp have municipal water systems; CalTrans and Siskiyou and Humboldt counties support highway maintenance. Agencies making decisions impacting Karuk Tribal Lands and resources include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), United States Forest Service (USFS), California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE), the State Water Board, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). In particular, nearly all Karuk ancestral territory is located within the National Forest System.
Due to the particular and immediate threat of increased fire intensity and severity in the Klamath region, this climate vulnerability assessment has a focus on the increased frequency of high severity fire. Other climate stressors including increased drought and temperatures, more variable weather, stronger storm systems, decreased snowpack, flooding, and increase in invasive species often intersect with the increasing frequency of high severity fire. These stressors –critically important in their own right — are beyond the scope of this assessment but are discussed nominally here. This chapter will also outline general social, economic and health related vulnerabilities faced by the Karuk Tribe in light of the changing climate.
Changing Patterns of Temperature and Precipitation
California is currently in its fifth year of the hottest and driest statewide drought in recorded climate history (Diffenbaugh et al. 2015; Griffin and Anchukaitis 2014). In May 2016, California Governor Brown issued an executive order moving many temporary drought restrictions into permanent status. Figures from the National Academy of Sciences report indicated a projected average temperature increase of up to 3.5- 4.5 degrees F for the Klamath region in the next 50 years (as compared to the period of 1971-1999) (Garfin et al. 2014). Temperature changes measured to date are variable within the region — at the Orleans, CA weather station, average temperatures have already increased 2 degrees F in the period from 1931-2014 (Butz et al. 2015). Nighttime temperatures over the same period have increased by almost 4o F (2.2° C) (ibid). Warmer nighttime temperatures have a particularly significant effect on stream temperatures.
Precipitation patterns are also changing in the Klamath basin and across the Pacific Northwest. Between 2012 and 2014 California witnessed the most severe drought on record. Not only were precipitation records the lowest since first recorded in 1895, but tree ring records suggest this period may be the driest California has been in 1,200 years (Griffin and Anchukaitis 2014). Butz, Sawyer and Stafford (2015) note “Across the western United States, widespread changes in surface hydrology have been observed since the mid- 1900s. These shifts include: decreased snowpack (particularly at low elevation sites; earlier snow melt and spring runoff (by 0.3 to 1.7 days per decade across Western US as a whole) decline in total runoff occurring in the spring (Moser et al. 2009) rising river temperatures (Kaushal et al. 2010) increased variability in streamflow (Pagano and Garen 2005).” The authors note the degree of variability in precipitation: “Year-to-year fluctuations in precipitation averaged over the Northwest have been slightly larger since 1970 compared with the previous 75 years, with some of the wettest and driest years occurring in the most recent 40 years” (xxii). Very significantly, precipitation and the amount of precipitation that falls as snow within the Klamath basin are also becoming more variable, e.g. the 5 year co-efficient of variation for annual precipitation is increasing at all weather stations in the Six Rivers National Forest (Butz et al. 2015).
While specific temperature, precipitation, fire and other aspects of the changing climate play out differently across regions of the United States and globe, trends occurring in Karuk ancestral territory are congruent with these larger patterns. In their recent report “Climate Change in the Northwest,” Dalton et al. (2013) note: “For the last 30 years, temperatures averaged over the Northwest have generally exceeded the 20th century average. During 1895–2011, the Northwest warmed by about 0.7 °C (1.3 °F)” and “During 1901–2009 the number of extreme high nighttime minimum temperatures increased in the Northwest” (xxii).
Changing patterns of temperature and precipitation, decreased snowpack, earlier snow melt and spring runoff, decline in total spring runoff, and increased variability in streamflow have already been observed, and these trends are expected to increase (Butz et al. 2015). For example, future snowfall in the 6,000-10,000 foot elevation range is predicted to decrease by 22-93% across California by 2100. Both earlier dates of peak daily flows, and increases in the proportion of precipitation fall as rain translate into an increase in flood potential (Butz et al. 2015). In the Klamath Basin, notable trends include larger fires and longer fire seasons, denser smoke concentrations for longer periods of time, and fish and salamander die-off.
Local projections for upcoming changes in temperature and precipitation generally follow region-wide forecasts. Dalton et al. (2013) review the projections from three major climate modeling efforts for the Pacific Northwest: “The Northwest is expected to experience an increase in temperature year-round with more warming in summer and little change in annual precipitation, with the majority of models projecting decreases for summer and increases during the other seasons.” Furthermore, among the future trends emphasized by Dalton et al. (2013) is that of increasing variability in precipitation:
The number of days with greater than 1 in (2.5 cm) of precipitation is projected to increase by 13% (± 7%) and the 20-year and 50-year return period extreme precipitation events are projected to increase 10% (-4 to +22%) and 13% (-5 to +28%), respectively, by mid-century (xxiii).
Changing patterns of temperature and precipitation create major dimensions of climate change beyond the scope of this report. These conditions affect fire behavior—as discussed in Chapter Two— but are also significant problems in their own right. Each of these trends has profound implications for Karuk tribal traditional foods and cultural use species, tribal program infrastructure and Tribal management authority and political status. Drought, warmer temperatures and increased spread of disease interact to affect species of importance to Karuk people, albeit in different ways. For example, aquatic species like salmon, winter and summer steelhead, sturgeon and many others adapted to colder water are at risk from thermal stress and increased competition from non-native species as water temperatures rise (Rahel and Olden 2008).
In 2014, California’s Salmon River, one of the last remaining strongholds of Spring run Chinook and Coho salmon, warmed to lethal temperatures. The survival of Coho salmon, (listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act), as well as a dwindling population Spring Chinook salmon hangs in the balance. These fish are critical to our food security, cultural survival and well-being. In August 2014, the Karuk Tribe issued an Emergency Declaration for severe drought conditions. Amphibians such as Pacific giant salamander (puuf puf) are particularly vulnerable to hotter, drier conditions resulting from climate change (Blaustein et al. 2010, Lawler et al. 2010). Tanoaks, critical for acorn production (Lenihan et al. 2003) are vulnerable not only to high severity fires as discussed in Chapter Three, but also susceptible to the invasive pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, which causes Sudden Oak Death (see below). These are just a few examples of the complex ways that changing patterns of temperature and precipitation affect hundreds of species of importance to Karuk people. Furthermore, these climate trends create vulnerabilities to Karuk program infrastructure and management authority. Detailed attention to these topics in a future expanded vulnerability assessment is urgently needed.
Species Invasions and Sudden Oak Death
Species invasions are another dimension of the changing climate that interacts with both the changing patterns of precipitation and temperature, and increasing frequency of high severity fires to generate impacts for Karuk people. Although humans have always moved organisms from one place to another as we travel, and participated in the shaping of so- called “natural ecosystems,” the rates of human travel, trade and hence new species introductions have expanded rapidly in past decades. Living organisms are moving around the globe at an unprecedented rate through direct importation and also as “hitch-hikers” on freighters, packaging and equipment. Some of these species take hold and spread rapidly in their new environment. When this occurs, native organisms and ecosystem relationships may be rapidly altered. Around the world, species invasions are increasing in light of climate change. In other cases, changing patterns of temperature and precipitation allow species that have long existed in one region to expand their reproductive cycle, as has occurred with beetle infestations in some western forests. Additionally, insects long known in a region may carry new sets of pathogens. Species invasions may become catalysts for high severity fires if the invasions in question are so significant that they fill a given habitat type with a more flammable species, or if they cause tree morbidity or mortality in forests, as has occurred in the four corners region of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico (Field et al. 2008). Mountain pine and spruce beetle outbreaks are expected to be an increasing problem within the Pacific Northwest as warming temperatures allow the insects to survive in high elevation forests where they were previously kept out by colder temperatures that impeded or limited insect survival (Dalton et al. 2013).
Invasive species that have drawn notable attention within Karuk ancestral territory
includes Port Orford cedar root rot (Phytophthora lateralis), spotted and meadow knapweed, star thistle, Italian thistle and leafy spurge.2 Invasive species have also been a concern to Karuk people in relation to herbicide spray, especially for basketweavers (Norgaard 2007). Of the invasive species in the region, forest pathogens are of particular importance both directly for their impact on Karuk foods, fibers and medicines, and indirectly for their impact on fire behavior. Among the most concerning invasive pathogens is Phytophthora ramorum, which causes Sudden Oak Death (Ortiz 2008, Voggesser et al. 2013). This pathogen has destroyed millions of oak and other trees, and has caused twig and foliar diseases in additional plant species across California since the 1990s. The noted cultural practitioner Beverly Ortiz (2008a) writes “While the use of “acorn” for food has survived more than 200 years of severe cultural disruption, upheaval, dislocation, and suffering as a result of non-Indian intrusion, it now faces a new threat—Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum)” (p.39).
Not only does this disease affect many species beyond the tanoaks for which it was named— a large percentage of these species are used by California Indians. Ortiz (2008) writes “Of the 23 native plant species and one genus that have been designated as regulated hosts for P. ramorum as of September 11, 2006, and the 18 other associated native plant species that may soon follow as regulated hosts, the author has identified contemporary cultural uses for all but 12” (419).3 Not only are these species of importance as food sources, Ortiz notes the spiritual significance of the relationships people hold with these plants:
The spread of P. ramorum into several coastal and near-coastal, California counties, threatens a vital, thousands-of-years-old relationship between people, cultural heritage, plants and their homelands. Cultural, social, community, emotional, spiritual and historical ties connect people to their homelands, and traditionalist California Indians feel an obligation to Creation, and the Creator, to continue to use plants within these homelands for food and other cultural purposes, while care taking the plants in culturally prescribed ways (Ortiz 2008, p. 425).
Species of importance to Karuk people that can carry or be directly impacted by the pathogen include tanoak, black oak, California bay laurel, madrone, hazelnut, evergreen huckleberry, manzanita, and salmonberry.
Ecological Significance of mid-Klamath Region
The Klamath region is highly biologically diverse and has been a refugia to which species migrated during past climatic changes (Olson et al. 2012). While the region is at great risk of increased frequency of high severity fires, it is also an area of the state with relatively high biological, geological and topographic diversity, and less urban development. These factors may once again make this region a climate refugia in the coming decades. Both the region’s ecological diversity and the qualities that provided relative protection during past climatic changes are ecologically advantageous, but these also cause complexities— they draw interest from non-Native scientists and land managers across the larger region who may or may not be aware of the Karuk Tribe’s presence, much less the ways that Karuk traditional ecological knowledge is integral to the region’s ecology, the Tribe’s ongoing management intentions, or their social and cultural importance (Norgaard 2014a, 2014b). For example, in an article considering the importance of the Klamath-Siskiyou region as a biological refugia in light of climate change, Olson et al. (2012) write:
“Reducing non-climate stressors and securing protection for large, complex landscapes are important long-term actions to alleviate climate change impacts on biodiversity. Equally important is the immediate protection of a network of climate change microrefugia, particularly old growth and intact forests on north-facing slopes and in canyon bottoms, lower- and middle- elevations, wetter coastal mountains, and along elevational gradients. Such areas provide local opportunities for vulnerable species to persist within the ecoregion” (p. 65).
These goals certainly could align with Karuk values and management principles, but Olson et al. (2012) do not mention Karuk tribal presence in the area, nor indicate an awareness of the extent to which tribal management principles might aid in the restoration of the landscapes of concern. With the right knowledge and under the right circumstances, outside scientists could develop mutually beneficial, collaborative relationships with the Tribe. Yet, what often occurs is that outside scientists undermine tribal authority by lacking awareness of tribal presence, history, knowledge, cultural practices, and the federal trust responsibility.
Social Impacts of The Changing Climate
The climatic and ecological changes outlined in the first part of this chapter have profound implications for Karuk people. Climate vulnerability assessments tend to address the potential social implications of climate change related to human health, social networks and relations, economic opportunity and, to a lesser extent, political relations and jurisdiction (NAS 2008). People and communities that are already socially marginalized, such as people living in or near poverty, indigenous people, and other people of color, may lack the resources and socio-political networks to advocate for themselves, endure, and/or recover from climate change impacts, making them more vulnerable (Lynn et al. 2011). Increasingly, academic and policy-related literatures are assessing the ways that indigenous peoples and communities in North America are (or may be) vulnerable when dealing with ongoing climate change impacts (Bennett et al. 2014, Cameron 2012, Lynn et al. 2013, Maldonado et al. 2014, Parrotta and Agnoletti 2012, Vinyeta et al. 2015, Voggesser et al. 2013, Whyte 2013, Wildcat 2013, Williams and Hardison 2013). Existing work analyzing the impacts of climate change for indigenous communities for the State of California is limited (e.g. a 2012 report by Cooley et al. entitled Social Vulnerability to Climate Change in California had one mention of tribes). Knowing full well the risks that climate change poses, tribal governments and organizations, and indigenous scholars and activists are leading the way in assessing tribal vulnerability, outlining sources of indigenous resilience in the face of climate change, and developing climate adaptation plans (ANTHC 2011, CIER 2007, CSKT 2013, Grossman and Parker 2012, Jamestown S’Klallam 2013, Maynard 1998, Swinomish 2010, Whyte 2013 & 2014, Wildcat 2009). This vulnerability assessment represents yet another example. We briefly survey general trends and issues below to provide a sense of the diversity of social impacts climate change may bring forth in tribal and other communities.
Human and environmental health are intimately connected. Western land management strategies and projects have already compromised the health and abundance of species of cultural importance to tribes, resulting in both cultural loss and loss of health (Hoover 2013, LaDuke 1999). In the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric dams have severely affected tribes’ ability to gather salmon, which is a cultural and dietary staple. We the Karuk Tribe have been at the forefront of identifying relationships between traditional foods and diet related diseases in light of environmental degradation in both riverine and forest environments (Reed and Norgaard 2010, Norgaard, Reed and Van Horn 2011), and in relation to toxic algae (Jacoby and Kann 2007). Norgaard (2005) documents how declines in important and highly nutritious traditional food species such as salmon have led to spikes in rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases. Traditional foods such as salmon are vitally important for physical and mental health. As riverine temperatures continue to increase, salmon and other cool water dependent species are increasingly at risk. Already dangerously high levels of toxic blue-green algae are also expected to rise with increasing water temperatures. The changing climate poses a number of other physical human health risks including increases in the rates of diseases transmitted by food, water and insects, rising pollen production (leading to higher rates of asthma and allergies), and increases in both heat related deaths and deaths related to extreme weather events (NAS 2008). The stresses associated with the impacts of climate change also pose risks for mental health. For indigenous communities that are often geographically, socio-politically and economically isolated, as well as culturally, spiritually and economically dependent on the lands and waters in their region, the health impacts of climate change can quickly become amplified.
Physical health or even shear survival may also be compromised for indigenous peoples carrying out hunting and gathering activities in changing landscapes. Concerns have been raised among Alaska Natives who may be facing elevated risks of life-threatening accidents as a result of thinning ice conditions in traditional hunting areas (Ford and Smit 2004, McBeath and Shepro 2007). While Karuk territory differs ecologically from that of Alaska Natives, climate change-induced landscape changes may be of concern if they affect the safety and health of tribal members while engaging in subsistence and traditional activities.
Climate change poses threats not only to physical health, but also to mental health, particularly for people and communities with strong cultural, economic and/or spiritual ties to the land (Cunsolo Willox et al. 2013, McNamara and Westoby 2011). Indigenous people in the U.S. already contend with the daunting task of processing centuries of historical trauma resulting from colonialism, a fact that has led to high rates of substance abuse, suicide, and violence within indigenous communities (Maracle 1996, Mokuau 2002, Ross 1998, Smith 2005, Strickland et al. 2006, Weaver 2009). The cultural impacts of climate change are just the latest in a long thread of what Jacob (2013) calls “soul wounds” imparted upon indigenous communities as a result of colonialism and a capitalist economy. Luckily, many tribes and tribal organizations are turning to traditional healing practices to restore mental health and spiritual well-being to their communities (Jacob 2013, Mokuau 2002, Nebelkopf and Penagos 2005). As climate change progresses, it will be important for tribes to develop or continue to provide culturally-appropriate programs and strong, supportive social networks that can help tribal members deal with the stresses and mental health impacts associated with the economic, cultural, and spiritual stresses that may be brought on by climate change impacts.
Lack of traditional food impacts the Karuk Tribe not only due to decreased nutritional content of specific foods, but results in an overall absence of food, leaving Karuk people with basic issues of food security. Intimately linked to health concerns is the issue of food security. Once amongst the most plentiful food systems in the world, Karuk ancestral territory now falls under the classification of a food desert. This distinction is both based on the fact that Karuk people are denied access to many of their former (first) foods due to federal policy and environmental damage, and the fact that the nearest supermarket is a two-hour drive from most parts of Karuk ancestral territory. Before the impacts of dams,
mining and over fishing, the Karuk people subsisted off salmon year round. With the destruction of the salmon population it is no longer possible for Karuk people to subsist on their traditional foods, yet people continue to rely on salmon and other fish for subsistence purposes. The 2005 Karuk Health and Fish Consumption Survey found that 59 percent of respondents live in households that fish for steelhead for food, 38 percent live in households that fish for spring chinook for food, and 50 percent live in households that fish for fall chinook for food. Forty percent of respondents answered that there are fish that their families once gathered that are no longer harvested and 58 percent of respondents indicated that they eat less salmon now than as a teen both frequently due to insufficient numbers of fish in the river to harvest. Additionally, 86 percent of respondents stated that regulations and low population numbers restrict them from gathering enough eel to fulfill their needs. Access to food and traditional food sources such as salmon are recognized as a basic human right by multiple international human rights treaties. The United Nations also recognizes the right to food security and food sovereignty.
Climate change poses further threats to food security by potentially shifting the ranges and abundance of plant and animal species that comprise a significant part of traditional indigenous diets (Lynn et al. 2013, Wesche and Chan 2010). This has both cultural and health repercussions for indigenous communities such as the Karuk Tribe. Climate change may exacerbate existing food security concerns in tribal communities by changing the habitats in which traditional food species live and grow, making them less abundant or unable to exist in their former range. Many tribes have embarked on food sovereignty movements in an effort to secure access to, and cultural relationships with, the food species that are vital to tribal health and well-being. The Karuk Tribe’s food security program –a collaboration the Tribe is carrying out with U.C. Berkeley – is among these examples. As climate change advances, such programs and movements will be of utmost importance in promoting tribal resilience.
In the absence of salmon and other foods from the land, people purchase foods in grocery stores or rely on government commodities. Past environmental devastation of the resource base is also directly linked to the disproportionate unemployment and low socio-economic status of many Karuk people today, with the result that poverty and hunger rates for the Karuk Tribe are amongst the highest in the state and nation. The isolation of the ancestral territory, due in part to rugged terrain and narrow, winding roads, predestined the people of the area to be dependent on the extraction of local natural resources as capital for means of exchange in the market system. The logging and mining industries became important to the local economy providing seasonal jobs for people in the area. The boom-and-bust nature of these industries contributed to the cycle of poverty while disrupting healthy ecosystems and the services that they provided.
The Karuk tribal economy continues to center around formal and informal economic endeavors related to natural resources. As the future the abundance and range of key plant and animal species is affected by climate change, subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering activities that provide a significant percentage of food for some Native families will continue to be compromised, forcing these families to spend more money on conventional groceries. This is particularly troubling given that indigenous communities are among the most economically impoverished in the United States (Leichenko 2003, Sarche and Spicer 2008). Poverty can affect one’s ability to overcome or bounce back from severe weather and other climate change impacts as the lack of financial resources may prevent one from evacuating in time, receive proper healthcare, have a monetary safety net, or prepare for future changes. That said, tribal communities often have tight social networks, traditions and knowledge that foster resilience in the face of climate change and mitigate the vulnerabilities that may arise as a result of financial scarcity. Additionally, some tribes are diversifying their economic endeavors to make them more resilient in the event of climate change impacts on certain resources. Across the United States, tribes are also investing in renewable energy projects that not only mitigate climate change and serve as an alternative to fossil fuel, but also prop up the tribal economy into the future.
It is important to note that in a traditional cultural paradigm void of Western influence, most tribal monetary systems were tied directly to the health and abundance provided by coupled human-natural systems. Indigenous communities typically could not generate site-specific excess needed for trade or use for specialty items such as ceremonial regalia without first fulfilling the human responsibility. In contrast, the contemporary economy and monetary system is linked to extraction, environmental degradation, and profit accumulation. As tribes move into a climate change era, there is an opportunity (albeit challenging) to plan for tribal economic futures that restore former responsibilities and values and prioritize social and ecological health as a key element of economic sustainability.
This assessment engages relationships between the increasing rate of high severity fires and Karuk management authority, yet this is but one dimension of the possible political impacts Karuk people face in relation to the changing climate. Climate change creates enormous political tensions at various scales as communities and nations struggle with a wide range of economic and social challenges, such as forced migration, sea level rise and natural disasters. Other political challenges emerge due to the fact that laws and policies have been created in relation to a particular set of ecological conditions that are now changing. Political impacts for Native people resulting from climate change include impacts to tribal hunting, fishing, and gathering rights as species move, the loss of physical land due to sea level rise, and loss of land from increasing storm surge in the face of reduced ice and coastal erosion.
In addition, tribes face loss of political standing through shifting jurisdiction in light of the changing climate. Language from UNDRIP as related to tribal rights in the face of climate change including the United States” (6). Article 31 section 1 of the UNDRIP states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
The above-mentioned dimensions of climate change not detailed in this report certainly deserve fuller attention in a follow up, comprehensive vulnerability assessment. It is the Karuk Tribe’s objective to follow-up this fire-focused assessment with one that comprehensively assesses the diverse and multi-faceted ways in which climate change may affect Karuk people, lands, and waters.
 A detailed resource of plants used by California Indians that are susceptible to Sudden Oak Death is available at www.suddenoakdeath.org
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