The California indigenous peoples using fire for agroforestry
January 2, 2019 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Prescribed burning is the main tool in the Karuk and Yoruk tribes' agroforestry systems, which encourages proliferation of traditional foods, herbs, and medicines.

For centuries, the Karuk tribe has nudged this interlocking ecosystem toward producing these beneficial plants through practices known as agroforestry. An ancient technology developed through time by the Karuk tribe and indigenous people around the world, agroforestry integrates crops and livestock into the grasses, shrubs, and trees of native forests. After this five-acre stand burned in a wildfire in 2001, Karuk and Forest Service crews intentionally burned the land again in 2016 as a research plot. They're using it to study how fire affects the food and other forest products that have sustained Native Americans in the Klamath River watershed for millennia.

posted by poffin boffin (8 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this poffin boffin, I'm really looking forward to the read.
posted by heatherlogan at 1:50 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Just FYI, the preferred spelling is "Yurok". Not blaming anyone, I'm sure it's a typo.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:17 PM on January 2, 2019

Isn't the stopping of controlled burns and the suppression of fire in general one of the factors that has led to such devastating wildfires in recent years?
posted by deadbilly at 7:47 PM on January 2, 2019

"There's no reason for us to exist if we can't fulfill our responsibility to take care of this place." True for all of us, I think.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:25 AM on January 3, 2019

This is good. This article is good in particular for its profusion of links to tribal and USDA documents, I have ended up falling down a hole of reading Karuk papers and reading more on wildfires up here my neighbor told me about.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2019

I learned about swidden agriculture from Crash Course last month and it has been on my mind ever since.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2019

The article only briefly mentions the advantages of such burning for wildfire safety. There are many causes behind the recent wildfire devastation, but one of them is that we're too damn good at putting out fires now. Before modern fire prevention, much of California was deliberately burned by Native people on a regular basis, and naturally occurring fires were left to burn what they pleased. Frequent fire was a critical part of both the pre-human and pre-Columbian ecosystem.

As has been previously discussed on MeFi, there is a delusional belief among Americans, including among mostly right-thinking environmentalists, that the pre-Columbian Americas were essentially a "pristine" wilderness. Such myths are clearly noxious in that they whitewash the genocide and deaths from disease that Native people suffered as a result of European invasion. But worse yet, they create misguided ideas about ecology and land management. "Just leave it alone" is not always the right way to restore ecological balance. People live here, and have for a long time, and are necessarily part of the ecology. The pristine myth needs to die, and efforts like those described in the article seem like a good way to kill it.

I manage several hundred acres of oak woodland in Northern California, and I wish there were a way for me to invite over (even pay?) people who knew how to do this sort of thing. My hope is that in the future, such methods aren't just seen as something Native-specific, but as a normal part of forest management.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Maybe the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council can help you with that, andrewpcone? CARB's site indicates prescribed burn permits require a lot of coordination. Seems like California is not super enthusiastic about it for concern over air quality. We as a state need to reevaluate that concern in the face of loss of life and worse long term air quality. Native American knowledge should lead us.
posted by Mister Cheese at 8:29 PM on January 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

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