US: 'Fire is medicine': the tribes burning California forests to save them

Source(s)
Guardian, the (UK)

By Susie Cagle

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This is the kind of land management O’Rourke grew up with on the Yurok reservation in the Klamath mountains of northern California. Now, lighting the forest on fire to save it – and his tribe’s culture along with it – has become his life’s work, as fire and fuels manager of the Yurok Cultural Fire Management Council. On this day, he’s working the drip torch alongside a few dozen cultural practitioners from tribes across the US, and firefighters from around the world.

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For more than 13,000 years, the Yurok, Karuk, Hupa, Miwok, Chumash and hundreds of other tribes across California and the world used small intentional burns to renew local food, medicinal and cultural resources, create habitat for animals, and reduce the risk of larger, more dangerous wild fires.

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For most of the last 100 years in California, however, government agencies have considered fire the enemy – a dangerous, destructive element to suppress and exclude from the land. Traditional ecological knowledge and landscape stewardship were sidelined in favor of wholesale firefighting, and a kind of land management that looked like natural conservation but left the ground choked with vegetation ready to burn. As the climate crisis creates hotter, drier, more volatile weather, that fuel has helped drive larger wildfires faster and further across the west.

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Since then, some state agencies have made prescribed burning a central part of their land and wildfire management strategies. The south-east leads the way: in Florida, landowners and government agents burn more than 2m acres a year.

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