Fellows in the News

As California battles its worst drought in 1,000 years  — and after massive wildfires swept across the state for two consecutive summers — a number of tribe members, scientists and U.S. Forest Service officials are working to revive traditional Native American land management practices that some believe could help contain the blazes and lessen effects of the drought.

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As California’s drought drags on, traditional land management techniques are also being experimented with at Pepperwood Preserve, a 3,120-acre protected area in California’s Sonoma County coastal mountains just north of San Francisco.

Pepperwood has an inter-tribal Native American advisory council that it hopes can revive traditional knowledge of land management, the preserve’s Executive Director Lisa Micheli told Al Jazeera.

“Across California, the area’s first people are reclaiming their roles as expert stewards of the state’s land and water resources,” Micheli said. “As drought and fire ravage undermanaged and overgrown public and private lands, partnerships like this are reintegrating native knowledge."

Pepperwood and local tribes are collaborating on projects including one to clear underbrush, a practice that has been largely lost since modern Americans colonized the West Coast, Micheli said.

Similar collaboration projects with the U.S. Forest service have also been implemented in northern California by leading fire management tribes including the Yurok, Karuk, and Hoopa, Charley said.

Although the use of controlled burns is viewed critically by some landowners ­— as well as environmentalists worried about protected species — Flores said such techniques have been used for centuries.

“This was a tradition they were doing for fire prevention,” Micheli said. "This is how it was managed for 1,400 years, and they were doing a pretty good job so we’re interested in learning from them.”

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