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Getting 'Good Fire' on the Ground: The Karuk Tribe Pushes to Restore Native Burn Management to Protect Forests

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A controlled burn trainee holds a small torch aloft while surveying an area where underbrush and debris is burning on the forest floor.
A prescribed fire burn training in 2019.

California is in the grip of another round of devastating wildfires, including history-making blazes that have jumped from one side of the Sierra to the other, fueled by overgrown forests thick with dry brush. But it hasn’t always been that way. 

For thousands of years before contact with Europeans, the Karuk people, like many others, tended their land with fire. The Karuk tribe is one of the largest in California, spanning parts of Humboldt and Siskiyou counties along the Klamath River.  When the federal government took over managing the forest in the mid-1800s, it stripped the Karuk people of their relationship with fire. Suppressing cultural burning and indigenous fire management techniques has had profound effects, contributing to the mammoth fires burning year after year across the state. 

In this half-hour documentary, KQED Science reporter Danielle Venton walks through the forest with tribal leaders and witnesses a controlled burn firsthand. She looks at the relationship between the Karuk and cultural burning, and the tribe’s negotiations with the state of California to get that control back.

You can find more of Danielle's reporting on the Karuk here.


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