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HAPPY CAMP, Calif. – Today the Karuk Tribe and a diverse coalition of partners released Good Fire: Current Barriers to the Expansion of Cultural Burning in California and Recommended Solutions, a comprehensive report looking at the obstacles that Tribes, ranchers, community fire safe councils and others face when trying to use cultural and prescribed burning to manage the unhealthy buildup of fuels in rural landscapes across California. 

The document is a policy roadmap for lawmakers and communities committed to better managing wildfire in California, and includes policy solutions to allow more prescribed fires to protect communities and resources. 

“Over 100 years of fire suppression and poor environmental stewardship have contributed to a dangerous build-up of brush and unhealthy forest conditions,” said report co-author Don Hankins, Ph.D. “Add to this climate change and communities unable to use fire to reduce brush and improve forest health, and this creates disastrous results as seen in Happy Camp, Redding, Santa Rosa, and Paradise in the aftermath of devastating fires. Restoring fire to the landscape is a fundamental way we can alleviate such conditions.” 

Hankins is a professor at Chico State where he teaches a course in pyrogeography. An internationally recognized expert in his field, Hankins is also a Plains Miwok cultural fire practitioner. 

“We identified eight policy areas that serve to prevent local communities from using prescribed fire to manage the landscape and protect their homes,” said report co-author Sara Clark, an attorney with the public interest law firm Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger. “In many cases, well intended environmental and public safety policies serve as barriers to keeping our forests healthy and communities fire-safe.” 

Tribes like the Karuk are seeking a return to the historic landscape management practices of their ancestors, while farmers and ranchers are trying to manage noxious weeds and pests. In many cases, the legal and policy barriers are the same for both groups.

The Karuk Tribe is currently working with Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide funding for tribal cultural burn programs, and a number of lawmakers to reform problematic statutes. 

“California’s landscape evolved with fire, and the idea that we can put out every fire is ridiculous and harmful to the land,” said Bill Tripp, Director of Natural Resources for the Karuk Tribe. “But we can work with fire to nurture forests, making them healthier while keeping our communities safe.”

Groups collaborating on the Good Fire project include: Karuk Tribe; Mid-Klamath Watershed Council; Pacific Forest Trust; California Indian Environmental Alliance; The Watershed Center; Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberg, LLC.; Northern California Prescribed Fire Council; the Cultural Fire Management Council; and The Fire Restoration Group.