Klamath TREX 2019

The Real World of Cultural Fire: Klamath TREX

Seeing is believing. I was lucky enough to be invited to a cultural fire Tribal training event in October of 2019, the Klamath Training Exchange (Klamath TREX).

According the the Mid Klamath Watershed Council, historically, the western Klamath Mountains experienced fires every 3 to 10 years. Fire suppression over the last 100 years and the prohibition of traditional Tribal burning has resulted in a huge fire deficit in our region. The use of prescribed fire may be the only viable long-term method for protecting our communities. Fire needs to be restored to the landscape for multiple other reasons as well: including for cultural resources, wildlife habitat, and general ecological functionality.

MKWC, through the Orleans/Somes Bar Fire Safe Council (OSBFSC) is facilitating collaborative strategic restoration planning and hazardous fuels reduction throughout our community. Our five-year strategic plan calls for the use of prescribed broadcast burning as a cost efficient tool for reducing hazardous fuels on pre-treated private lands, and for maintaining these treated areas over time.

Returning fire to public land is even more critical, since this comprises 95% of the property in this region. To that end MKWC is a key player in the collaborative Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) which seeks to return fire to the wider landscape. WKRP is a community-based partnership working towards building trust and a shared vision to create fire-adapted communities, and to use traditional ecological knowledge and western science to restore fire regimes and re-create resilient biodiverse forests.

The return to #GoodFire as taught by Klamath River tribes has received a lot of media coverage, but also the frustration over megafires when better management was available: The Guardian, Fire Adapted Communities, UC Berkeley collaborative news round-up, Siskiyou Daily News on transmission line fire dangers, Daily Kos, The Nature Conservancy, The San Francisco Chronicle–fire is a ‘vaccine for our land,’ SF Chronicle–Bill Tripp, Bay Nature, and an interview with Frank Lake by California Native Plant Society.

Frank Lake over a long-term research study reported in 2018 by the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, found that Smoke generated by wildfires can cool river and stream water temperatures by reducing solar radiation and cooling air temperatures, according to a new study in California’s Klamath River Basin.

A paper titled, Wildfire Smoke Cools Summer River and Stream Water Temperatures, in the journal “Water Resources Research” suggests that smoke-induced cooling has the potential to benefit aquatic species that require cool water to survive because high summer water temperatures are a major factor contributing to population declines, and wildfires are more likely to occur during the warmest and driest time of year.

Native American tribes and other entities measuring river water temperatures in the Klamath Basin had previously noticed drops in river temperatures during periods of heavy smoke, but this is the first study to demonstrate this phenomenon with rigorous statistical analysis of long-term datasets.

“Prior to modern fire suppression, wildfires burned extensively throughout much of the Western United States, and smoke from these fires may have naturally cooled water temperatures during the summer when temperatures are hottest.”


Bill Tripp, deputy director of the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, says this research provides a great example of how traditional ecological knowledge is used to focus a refined view under the western scientific framework and better understand the specific functions these processes provide.

“The ecological principles explored here are in no way new. In fact, there are cultural burning practices associated with Karuk World Renewal Ceremonies specifically for the purpose of ‘calling in the salmon’ that are directly connected to these factors.”


In other words, tribal cultural fire management in cooperation with local communities and agencies could be the better, more ecological and climate-friendly answer to make healthy soils, reduce wildfire fuels, sequester Carbon, and restore salmonid streams and watersheds, instead of commercial livestock grazing. We should look towards working with tribal partners to restore coastal prairies and other fire-adapted native plant communities, and salmon and trout habitat, including at Point Reyes National Seashore, in order to bring back #GoodFire, and lessen the need for ubiquitous livestock grazing.


Bauer, S. B. and T. A. Burton. 1993. Monitoring Protocols to Evaluate Water Quality Effects of Grazing Management on Western Rangeland Streams. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Idaho Water Resources Research Institute, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID.

Brown, Bruce. 1995. Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon. University of Washington Press: Seattle.

Burcham, L. T. 1957. California Range Land: An Historico-ecological Study of the Range Resources of California. Department of Natural Resources, California Division of Forestry: Sacramento, California.

Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin. 2004. Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin: Causes of Decline and Strategies for Recovery. National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press: Washington D.C.

Coughenour, Michael B. 1991. Spatial components of plant-herbivore interactions in pastoral, ranching, and native ungulate systems. Journal of Range Management 44(6): 530-542.

Cutright, Paul Russell. 1969. Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln (Reprinted 1989 by Bison Books in cooperation with University of Illinois).

Flosi, Gary, Scott Downie, James Hodelain, Michael Bird, Robert Coey, and Barry Collins. 1997. California Salmonid Stream Habitat Restoration Manual, third edition. State of California, The Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries Division.

Hillman, Leaf G. and John F. Salter. 1997. Karuk environmental stewardship: Steps toward tribal/agency co-management. A paper jointly written and presented at the International Conference on Creativity and Innovation at Grassroots for Sustainable Natural Resource management, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India, January 11-14, 1997.

Hoffman, Eric. 1991. Saving the Steelhead. In, Alan Lufkin, California’s Salmon and Steelhead: The Struggle to Restore and Imperiled Resource. University of California Press: Berkeley.

Jordan, David Starr. 1892. Salmon and Trout of the Pacific Coast. Bulletin No. 4, Board of Fish Commissioners, State of California: Sacramento.

Jordan, David Starr and Barton. W. Evermann. 1904. American Food and Game Fishes: A Popular Account of All the Species Found in America North of the Equator, with Keys for Ready Identification, Life Histories and Methods of Capture. Doubleday, Page and Co.: New York.

Leidy, R. A. 1984. Distribution and ecology of stream fishes in the San Francisco Bay drainage. Hilgardia 52 (8): 1-175.

Lufkin, Alan (ed.). 1991. California’s Salmon and Steelhead: The Struggle to Restore an Imperiled Resource. University of California Press: Berkeley.

McClurg, Sue. 2000. Water and the Shaping of California. Water Education Foundation: Sacramento and Heyday Books: Berkeley.

McEwan, Dennis and Terry Jackson. 1996. Steelhead Restoration and Management Plan for California. State of California, The Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game.

McHugh, Paul. 1991. Steelies. In, Alan Lufkin (ed.), California’s Salmon and Steelhead: The Struggle to Restore an Imperiled Resource. University of California Press: Berkeley.

Menke, J. W., C. Davis, P. Beesley. 1996. Rangeland assessment. In: Sierra NevadaEcosystem Project: final report to Congress. Vol. III: Assessments, commissioned reports, and background information. III. Davis, CA: University of California, Davis, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources: 901-972.

Moyle, Peter B. 2002. Inland Fishes of California. University of California Press: Berkeley.

NRCS. 2018. 2018 Bare ground, inter-canopy gaps, and soil aggregate stability. Technical Resources at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/nra/nri/results/?cid=nrcseprd1343030, accessed July 2020.

Pennington, Nat. 2004. Salmon River chinook salmon and steelhead runs: The status of the stocks, the Salmon River’s fishery update. Summer 2004 Newsletter, Salmon River Restoration Council, http://www.srrc.org, accessed 2004.

Salter, John F.. 2003. White Paper on Behalf of the Karuk Tribe of California: A Context Statement Concerning the Effect of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project on Traditional Resource Uses and Cultural Patterns of the Karuk People Within the Klamath River Corridor. Written under contract with Pacificorp in connection with Federal Energy Relicensing Commission proceedings concerning the relicensing of Iron Gate Dam. Perofrmed under Contract No. 300002057, November 2003.

——2004. Fire and forest management: Casting light on the paradigms. Parts 1 and 2. The River Voice, vol. I, issue ii, summer/fall 2004. Online at www.srrc.org (Salmon River Restoration Council), accessed 2004.

Savory, A. 1988. Holistsic Resource Management. Covelo Island Press.

SPAWN. 2002. Stream Naturalist Training Manual. Salmon Protection and Watershed Network: Forest Knolls, California. http://www.spawnusa.org

Steelquist, Robert. 1992. A Field Guide to the Pacific Salmon. Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, Sasquatch Books: Seattle.

Stubbs, Kevin and Rolland White. 1993. Lost River Sucker and Shortnose Sucker Recovery Plan. U. S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Region One, Portland, Oregon.

Villeponteaux, Jim. 2004. Fire and Rain. Summer 2004 Newsletter, Salmon River Restoration Council, http://www.srrc.org, accessed 2004.

Waller, Steven, Lowell Moser, Patrick Reece, and George Gates. 1985. Understanding Grass Growth: The Key to Profitable Livestock Grazing. Trabon Printing Co., Inc.

Waszczuk, Henry and Italo Labignan. 1996. In Quest of Big Fish. Key Porter Books Limited: Toronto.

Winterhalder, Bruce. 1994. Concepts in historical ecology: the view from evolutionary ecology. In, Carole Crumley (ed.), Historical Ecology: Cultural Knowledge and Changing Landscapes. School of American Research Press: Santa Fe, NM.

Yochum, Steven E. 2018. Guidance for Stream Restoration. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Stream & Aquatic Ecology Center, Technical Note TN-102.4. Fort Collins, CO.