The Western Klamath Restoration Partnership

I’ll be kicking off 2017 on the MAPA blog with a post about meaningful tribal collaboration, traditional ecological knowledge and preventing natural disasters on federal lands. I am Paula Hertfelder, MA/PhD student at Binghamton University and Pathways Intern with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) at the Six Rivers National Forest in northern California. I started work this past summer on the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) – an interdisciplinary collaborative formed between the Karuk Tribe, the U.S. Forest Service, the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) and other stakeholders. This collaborative partnership addresses concerns over the increasingly devastating wildfires in the West in part by using traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and land management. It has also led to a successful collaboration between USFS and Karuk Tribal archaeologists, which has improved heritage resource management efforts.

The WKRP is a case study of successfully integrating TEK and Western science, collaborative work, and how TEK can be incorporated into the expectations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when assembling an Environmental Assessment (EA). When conducting an EA, NEPA requires consultation with a range of stakeholders on varying concerns. There are many examples of TEK incorporation into the NEPA process, especially in different National Park Service projects. However, it has not been routinely and consistently considered within the NEPA process. Archaeologists need to make sure that at a minimum we engage in meaningful consultation with tribes. Failure to do so has enormous impacts on tribal communities and on our field. This is especially true with federal archaeology. The federal government owns over 630 million acres of land in the U.S. – land that contains many sacred places and important natural and cultural resources for Native communities today.

In addition, heritage resource management should be conducted in a culturally appropriate manner for ethical reasons but also for better approaches to conserving cultural heritage. With meaningful consultation comes a better understanding of what is important, contexts of significance, and techniques for identification on archaeological sites and in tribal resource areas. Many Native communities do not strictly divide natural and cultural resources the same way as Western beliefs. Proper consultation is necessary for understanding what resources are culturally significant, and for a deeper understanding within the practice of archaeology.

TEK and Prescribed Fire in the West

First, I need to give some background on why traditional ecological knowledge is important in fighting fires in the West and the purpose of controlled burning. Native people throughout the western U.S. would frequently burn forests for many reasons – to enhance the habitat of animals such as deer, to encourage the growth of certain plants, to keep pests at bay, and to prevent larger, more intensely burning fires. They would burn the brush and smaller plants under the trees without burning the whole forests down. The ecosystems in the West evolved from these land management practices and from regular forest fires. In parts of California, they occurred approximately every 5-15 years. In the 20th century, the federal government began a policy of suppressing fire. Since then, there has been a dangerous build-up of fuels, which create larger, more devastating fires. In addition, fire suppression has had a negative effect on the forests themselves, for which fire suppression is an unnatural state. For example, Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks faced the problem of the giant Sequoia tress not reproducing. Park officials eventually learned that Sequoia pine cones rely on fire to open and spread seeds. Now many acres in both national parks are treated by prescribed fire every year.

A USFS Firefighter lights a prescribed burn on the Six Rivers NF.

Prescribed Burn on the Six Rivers NF. Credit: Six Rivers National Forest

TEK refers to various indigenous land and resource management practices, and knowledge about plants and animal species. It includes prescribed fire, and the understanding that North American ecosystems have never been pristine wildernesses, but have evolved with human management. It has great benefits to natural and cultural resource management. The term ecocultural resources describes a more integrated perspective on various material and nonmaterial resources that is more in line with Karuk perspectives and that of many other indigenous peoples. It includes first food resources (salmon, huckleberries, elk, for example), plants (such as those used for basket weaving) that are traditionally managed with fire, as well as the more nonmaterial sense of place and landscape that comes with certain plant species and environments. Many of these natural resources are necessary for maintaining tribal traditions, such as for ceremonies or basket weaving. USFS approaches to landscape management are now incorporating these ideas.

The Western Klamath Restoration Partnership

WKRP logo, consisting of a green, orange and blue flame encompassing a tanoak, doug fir and a sugar pine tree.

Credit: WKRP

The WKRP came about as stakeholder communities spoke about concerns regarding the dangerous buildup of fuels in the Klamath watershed and the potential for large fires. Fire suppression during the 20th century has made wildfires much more dangerous and intense. This is in the broader context of intense drought and climate change in California, which makes the buildup of fuels that much more dangerous. The Klamath River watershed is the ancestral territory of the Karuk tribe. A sample of this watershed has been selected for initial controlled burns. Open collaboration has occurred in all project stages between stakeholders, and has been instrumental to the success of the partnership, especially with diverse viewpoints among stakeholders. It is also vital as there is a long history of mistrust and failed attempts to work together.

WKRP is very much interdisciplinary, and not solely focused on heritage resources. For my internship and this blog post, my focus is on the aspects of the project related to heritage. USFS archaeologists and Karuk archaeologists worked on joint surveys to comply with the directives of the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106) and NEPA in the summers of 2015 and 2016. During the resource identification phase, California requires state archaeological site recordation forms (DPR forms), and we developed a separate TEK form to record Resource Areas (RA). Resource Areas are sites that have a significant amount and/or high quality of cultural vegetation; these are plants that provide food, medicinal, or other significant resources. Many of the RA’s we find also include an archaeological component, which is recorded on the TEK form and DPR form. We evaluate the RA’s based on the variety or quality of resources. These sites may also include areas that have evidence for being managed in the past, which adds to their significance. For instance, there are oak woodlands with a significant number of legacy trees that are spaced far apart, indicating people managed them in the past.

This collaborative approach to the historic preservation process blends together natural and cultural resources in ways that better accommodate NEPA concerns. One consequence of the limits of Section 106 is that we have come to differentiate some archaeological sites as “section 106 sites”, such as the case with mining or other historic sites, and not including cultural landscape features in terms of our Section 106 compliance. However, what is clear from our collaboration is that the archaeologist’s distinction between cultural and natural resources can be very artificial. How can we separate archaeological sites from landscapes that have evidence of past management? Or from culturally significant areas, which provide necessary resources for Native communities living today? As heritage managers, we also have a responsibility for other areas and resources that are not the typical archaeological site; this includes traditional cultural properties, areas like our RA’s that provide culturally significant natural resources, and practices such as we identified by using TEK.

Moving forward – What’s next?

Collaborative projects are becoming more and more common with the USFS. Other collaboratives in the Six Rivers National Forest include the Smith River Collaborative and the Trinity County Collaborative in the Mad River District. These are both interdisciplinary and engage multiple stakeholders. There are also many other collaborative USFS land management projects in California.

Map of California, showing the locations of seven other USFS collaborative projects.

Map of collaborative USFS projects in California. Photo Credit: National Forest Foundation.

Next month, Angela McComb will be writing about federal archaeology and disaster archaeology, based on her experience working as a FEMA intern. Stay tuned!

About the Author

I am an MA/PhD student interested in GIS analysis and public archaeology. While my PhD work is focused on the site of Cerro de Trincheras in Sonora, I have worked throughout North America and the Caribbean. Prior to attending Binghamton University I received a Fulbright Fellowship to research GIS and pre-Columbian site conservation in Trinidad and Tobago. I’ve also worked several seasons as an archaeological technician for the U.S. Forest Service. This summer, I began work as a Pathways Intern at the Six Rivers National Forest, CA.


  • Kellam says:

    Good overview of an innovative project! What is the preservation status of these Resource Areas? Is that only a designation created by the Six Rivers NF to assist in the identification and management of particular kinds of vegetation communities? Or does it carry some weight in terms of preservation (like Rural Historic Landscape designations or a National District)?

    • phertfelder says:

      It does not carry any legal weight (that I know of), but like you said is more to guide our treatment recommendations. So we (meaning the USFS and Karuk employee combined archaeology crew) use the category to create boundaries for the RA and make recommendations for them, such as thinning/burning tanoak groves to increase acorn production, or avoiding burning vegetation that is sensitive to fire or avoid burning riparian areas. We also record their accessibility and map them, so people have a record of resources available to them.

    • Bill Tripp says:

      We are not seeking preservation status of the resource areas in particular at this time. We are currently building trust and attempting to revitalize the human relationship with fire as it relates to; these resources, wildlife benefits, cultural use and perpetuity of practice. We are however using the data to prepare marking guide/treatment consideration maps, so we achieve the intended benefits through implementation and revitalize the continuum in our cumulative knowledge, practice and belief systems. We are however recognizing that the information related to the preservation of our living culture is not completely released in this effort, and the information in the arch sites, provide information as to the use of the resource areas, but with additional information supplied and a greater landscape survey effort undertaken, these resource areas may become part of a greater TCP or cultural district.

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