Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/The Karuk Tribe’s attempts to reassert local control over their ancestral territory in California, USA

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The Karuk Tribe’s attempts to reassert local control over their ancestral territory in California, USA

The Karuk Tribe is a Federally recognized tribe of indigenous people in the Klamath Basin in northwestern California, it is one of the largest tribes in California. Klamath basin is a 40,790 km2 basin split between Northern California and Oregon; and its main river is the Klamath River. The Karuk tribe historically resided in villages along the Klamath River, and from this they claim traditional, ancestral, and largely unceded rights over the land (there are a couple very small trusts that add up to about 2.6 square kilometers). While they are a tribe recognized by the US Federal government, they have no reservation and are often overlooked when it comes to management decisions on the over 5400 square kilometers of land they claim ownership over. Due to the majority of their ancestral land being under the control of the U.S. Forest Service, and a significant portion of their current land being in trusts set up by the Forest Service, their relationships and interactions with the Service are vitally important. The Indian Self Determination Act of 1975 is supposed to force the Federal government to ensure that Indigenous peoples are participating in programs that affect their communities and supporting them in developing strong tribal governments. The U.S. has also signed on to several international declarations that they are currently not following in their interactions with the Karuk. The Tribe has been consistently fighting for more control over its land, eventually leading to a de facto co-management agreement with the Forest Service in the mid to late 1990s, known as the Ti Bar project. While this agreement ended abruptly around 2000 due to changes in the forest service personnel, they still view it as a success and a meaningful step in moving towards local control over their ancestral home. The Karuk’s main foci for the management of their ancestral land involve “eco-cultural community management”, which involves the restoration of the environment and their traditional practices.

The Klamath Basin


The Karuk

The Karuk have inhabited Klamath Basin since time immemorial, during this time they have largely modified the landscape through their traditional management practices like, low intensity burns. [1] Archaeological evidence proves that people have been inhabiting the Klamath Basin for at least 9,000 years, and that they have been implementing management plans over the land for thousands of years. [2] Traditional learning of managerial techniques from the elders interrupted by the arrival of Europeans through institutions like boarding schools or residential schools that drastically reduced hands on teaching, however these principles were still taught and continue to today (even with threat of jail). [1] Traditional subsistence practices include: hunting, trapping, fishing, nut/seed harvesting, mushroom and berry gathering, medicinal plant gathering, basketry/artisan materials and “have all but diminished” [1] Much of how the Karuk interact with nature is derived from their belief “that everything in nature has a spirit and deserves the utmost respect preceding the actions of human influence upon nature”, this belief underlines how they interact with nature. [1] Since the Karuk have been displaced from much of their ancestral territory, the “Non-traditional land management practices have failed to provide for the sustainable flow of resources and cultural uses across the ancestral landscape”, these practices (namely logging and fire suppression) have also led to an increase in the magnitude of wildfire in the area. [1] The Karuk describe the current state of their lands, as a result of management failures from the US Federal Government and the inability of Federal, State, or County agencies to recognize the current unhealthy state of these forests: “Our ancestral homeland is slowly being stripped of diversity by former and present activities that have depleted old growth forest characteristics, resulted in loss of grasslands and open canopies, decreased fisheries and water quality, habitat loss, as well as increased unnatural abundance and distribution of conifer and shrub species.” [1]

The Wildlife

An American Avocet in Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, California, USA. It is displaying to focus attention away from its nest.

Historically, Klamath has been a hotspot for migratory birds (260 species) due to the large amount of wetlands, although only 142,000 of the original 360,000 acres of wetland remain. [2] The mismanagement of lands after the indigenous peoples were removed was rampant across the valley, one example is the creation of a dike to block overflow from the Klamath River, which resulted in Klamath Lake Drying up in 1922 (in response President Calvin Coolidge established the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge). [2] During the early 1900s, hunting of birds for feathered hats and for San Francisco restaurants became very popular; after seeing photographs of the birds, President Theodore Roosevelt created the first bird refuges in the west. [2] In 1956 US Fish and Wildlife claimed that Klamath had “the greatest concentration of waterfowl in North America and probably the world”, in 1956 there were around 7 million birds, today there are around 1 million. [2] Later, Rachel Carlson described the situation of pesticide pollution from agricultural run-off as a “Silent Spring” situation. [2]

European Contact

Modoc chief Kintpuash (better known as Captain Jack). This photo is in the public domain, as it was taken in 1864. The original is in the collection of the Southwest Museum

The main conflicts between the Karuk and European settlers began in the 1850s during the Californian Gold Rush, these conflicts, mainly from mining claims, ultimately resulted in the US Calvary forcibly removing the Karuk from their lands and forcing them into nearby reservations in Hoopa and Quartz Valleys; the process of forcibly removing children and placing them in residential schools also began around the same time. [1] The arrival of European settlers disrupted the Karuk peoples’ relationship with the land, and led to a shift from the long term focused management of the Karuk, to the short term profit and extraction based management of the settlers. [3]The Karuk are not the only indigenous group that inhabited the valley before European contact, the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin tribes also inhabited the valley, and were later designated as the single Klamath tribe by the US Government [2]. Other conflicts with European settlers began over cattle grazing, the land in Klamath Basin was very beneficial for grazing, so after the local peoples were forcibly removed from the land, settlers moved on with their cattle [2]. One of the biggest conflicts with settlers in Klamath Basin was the Modoc War between some members of the Modoc Tribe who left the reservation in order to go back to their land. The ‘Modoc War’ (1872-73) was started when a US Calvary unit attacked the village that Kintpuash (a Modoc Chief) and his followers had made in their home territory after leaving Klamath reservation. [2] Kintpuash (aka ‘Captain Jack’) was a Modoc Chief during the 1860s and 70s, who led the unsuccessful ‘Modoc War’ against white settlers to retake their ancestral lands (after tensions with their rivals the Klamath Tribe caused some Modoc members to leave the reservation), after the war was lost Kintpuash, along with several other Modoc members, were found guilty of war crimes and hanged (for killing peace commissioners, including General Edward R. Canby). [2] The Klamath Termination Act of 1954 terminated federal supervision of the tribe (coincided with House Concurrent Resolution 108 that terminated certain tribe’s supervision), allowed members born before 1954 to maintain joint interests in tribal assets or to withdraw and be compensated for their share. [2] As a result of this termination, living conditions dropped, alcohol abuse rose, and some members developed psychological trauma from the loss of their ancestral home (although it is highly unlikely that this was the first traumatic event they experienced as a result of European Colonization).[2] In 1974 the Supreme Court ruled that Klamath still had rights to fish, hunt, and gather on their traditional territory, in 1986 they regained federal recognition (their land was not returned). [2]

Tenure Arrangements

The winter Sun in Klamath

Who Owns the Land?

There has been no valid treaty between the Karuk and the US Government that cedes the Karuk’s land to the US. [4]There were three treaties signed between the Karuk and the US Federal Government, but the underlying concept of land ownership/written title was not understood by the tribe, and the Senate blocked the ratification of the treaties so no rights or title were relinquished. [1] The three treaties the Karuk signed were part of the 18 treaties made by US Indian Agent Redick Mckee throughout California, none of these treaties were ratified, and the associated reserves were never made. [5] Another important note on the ownership of the land is that the Spanish never occupied or conquered (hence “no extinguishment of Indigenous Title”) the Karuk aboriginal territory, so they had no right to give it to the US under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. [1] In 1887, the General Allotment Act, gave 63 members of the Karuk an average of 11 acres (0.04 square kilometers) of land. [5] The Forest Reserve Act of 1894 under President Theodore Roosevelt, put 1.04 million acres (4200 square kilometers) of Karuk traditional territory put into Klamath Forest Reserve, this act left the Karuk without recognized title to their lands. [5] Later, the California Indian Jurisdictional Act of 1928 set out to compensate Indians for the “failure to secure lands and compensation provided for in the eighteen unratified treaties.” [1] The Indian Claims Act of 1946 allowed identifiable groups to file claims over the loss of their land. [1] These acts led to “ceding of ancestral lands without due process or the consent of the Tribe and without the affected parties knowing or understanding the potential effects.” [1] During the 1970s, Tribal Elders bought some land in Orleans and Happy Camp, marking some of the first gains in control over their ancestral territory. [5] In total the Karuk own around 1,611 acres (around 6.5 square kilometers) of their 1.38-million-acre (around 5600 square kilometers) ancestral territory, the Karuk had the US Federal Government place 900 acres (3.64 square kilometers) of this land into Federal Trust lands for the government to watch over and manage, the rest of the land is used for tribal housing, ceremonies, and resource management. [5] Currently, the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests overlap almost the entirety of the ancestral territory of the Karuk. [6]

Tribal Interactions with the Federal Government

The Karuk Tribe is a federally recognized tribe, with an ancestral claim to over 5400 square kilometers, with most of this territory currently under the control of the US Federal Government through the US Forest Service. [1] This federal recognition of the Tribe means that when interacting with the federal government, they must act in a government to government relationship, and that the Karuk are sovereign over their land. [5] Despite their forcible removal from their lands, the Karuk remain very connected to them, and traditional subsistence practices are continued in the rivers and forests. [4] Unlike their neighbors in Klamath Basin, the Karuk do not actually have a reservation of their own. [4] Renewed movements for self-governance during the 1970s-1980s led to a push by the Tribe for more management authority over the federal forest land that was placed on top of their ancestral territory. [4] During their negotiations with the Forest Service the Karuk introduced the idea of a “federal trust responsibility, which directs the U.S. federal government to uphold a fiduciary duty to manage trust resources for the benefit of tribes as distinct political bodies”. [4] “With the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004, U.S. federal law also supports tribal management activities in federal forests when there are threats to adjacent tribal trust lands. Furthermore, the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975 directs the U.S. federal government to assure the maximum participation of Indigenous people in programs affecting Indigenous communities, and to support tribes in developing strong tribal governments.” [4] Karuk Tribal members have the right to gather some non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for non-commercial use on these federal lands, this right comes from the Tribe being federally recognized, “…federally recognized tribes like the Karuk are legally authorized to hold special use rights within federal forests.” [4]

Retired Forest Supervisor, Barbara Holder describes the Karuk’s relationship to the Policies of the Forest Service. “Our policies were very important to the Karuk, because they didn’t have land. So that particularly added to difficulties and tension. Where tribes have land, they do their thing. . . . I think all along [the Karuk] were trying to establish a historical right to their spiritual places. So that was tough, because it wasn’t their land. It was National Forest land under National Forest policies, not Karuk policies. So it was very hard to know how far you go.”[4]

Tribal leaders successfully lobbied for the creation of “Management Area 8”, cultural management areas that include ceremonial sites. Management plans for these sites require “a signed Memorandum of Understanding between the Forest Service with the Karuk Tribe” to make sure the activities are “consistent with their (the tribe’s) custom and culture” (USDA Forest Service, as cited in Diver 2016) [4]Some members of the Forest Service worried that by sharing decision making authority with the Karuk, that the Service would be viewed as “playing favourites” with the Tribe, or that this sharing would be illegally giving away management authority of federal lands; these concerns portray the Karuk as an interest group and not the sovereign nation that they are. [4]

One member of the Karuk comments on the Forest Service: “The Forest Service is fairly new in the Tribe’s life in this area. The Tribe has been here much longer. . . and feels more of an attachment to the land than what they see as the transient Forest Service people coming and going. We’ve been through a lot of rangers here. But each ranger will seem to have this attitude that this is their district. I’ve even seen it come with rangers on their very first day they show up to work at the district. And it’s like, ‘Ok, this is your district? A lot of people have been here for a long time, long before you even thought about coming here.’ I don’t know that they’ve really thought about it or know that they are coming across as very disrespectful to the people that had already been there.”[4]

Administrative Arrangements


The Karuk are largely trying to enter into a co-management relationship with US Federal Government, where both sides can respectfully work together to solve common issues. Co-management can be defined as the “sharing of management power and responsibility between government agencies and local people, typically through a formal agreement”, although the US Forest Service has never officially stated they are entering a co-management situation with the Karuk, they often work together in this sense. [4] The idea of co-management stresses the importance of including local people’s knowledge in the management of the environment and resources around them; it also questions the ability of centralized governments and free market capitalism to effectively manage these areas. [4] Co-management can either “transform natural resource conflicts to achieve more sustainable management” or can be “a state-driven project that co-opts community interests”. [4] This co-option of local interests comes from imbalanced power relations between the groups undertaking co-management, and often has colonial overtones. [4] Interactions between Indigenous groups and state based institutions, like co-management, are riddled with colonial legacies, especially the legacy of removing these peoples from the decision making process on their ancestral lands. [4] Another major issue with co-management is governments are often unable to “accommodate Indigenous ontologies or epistemologies that emphasize spiritual relationships between people and the landscape” which leads to “translating Indigenous management concepts into narrow categories that fit within pre-defined agency structures often results in incomplete representations of complex Indigenous knowledge systems” [4] When done well, co-management can lead to environmental results like “reduced harvest pressure and increased regulatory compliance, alongside benefits for local livelihoods”, as well as socially beneficial results like “facilitating social learning” which leads to a greater understanding between those involved, less conflicts between the groups, and provides a pathway for combating joint issues. [4] It may also “shift de facto rights (rights in practice) that enhance community control, even in the absence of de jure or legal rights”, like in the case of the Karuk. [4]

The Karuk have actually entered into a co-management relationship with the US Forest Service in the past, the Ti Bar agreement that occurred in the mid to late 1990s, was a significant step towards the Karuk controlling their lands, and will be discussed later (see discussion section). [4]

Affected Stakeholders

Flag of the Karuk
Karuk Food Crew employee Ron Reed collects gooseberries. Photo credit: Colleen Rossier

In this case the affected stakeholders are the Karuk Tribe, affected meaning that they are a group that whose livelihoods depend on the forest, and/or a group who has an ancestral/traditional claim to the territory.

Values of the Karuk Tribe

The Karuk outline their values as “health, justice, economic security, education, housing, self-governance, as well as the management and utilization of cultural/natural resources within and adjacent to the Karuk Aboriginal Territory now and forever.” [1] “Tribal People continue to maintain a unique relationship with the land and value many resources as sacred. This area has been occupied and traditional uses have continued since time immemorial.” [1] “We (the Karuk) share our existence with plants, animals, fish, insects, and the land and waters. We are responsible for their wellbeing. Our ancestral landscapes overflow with stories and expressions from the past which remind us of who we are and direct us to implement sound traditional management practices in a traditional, yet contemporary context.” [1] “As the second largest indigenous Tribe in California we have un-surrendered sovereign rights that provide for the specific protection and sustainability of our traditional uses and needs. As guardians of our ancestral land we are obligated to support practices that emphasize the interrelationships between the cultural elements and physical dimensions of ecosystems.” [1] “In the Karuk Tribe’s worldview, planetary stewardship is maintained through the place-based spiritual and cultural philosophy of World Renewal. A philosophy of Renewal reaffirms the responsibility of humans as stewards as well as a critical ecosystem component. The Tribe believes in renewal of the human–environment relationship that is compatible with ecological processes, promotes a sustainable economy, and increases ecosystem resilience.” [3]

Goals of the Karuk Tribe

“The mission of the Karuk Tribe of California is to promote the general welfare of all Karuk People, to establish equality and justice for our Tribe, to restore and preserve Tribal traditions, customs, language and ancestral rights, and to secure to ourselves and our descendants the power to exercise the inherent rights of self-governance.” [1] One of the main goals of the Karuk is “Eco-cultural revitalization”, which “is intended to include changes in land management practices, restoring historic fire regimes, integration of adaptive management principles, intergenerational learning, development of fire adapted communities, and reincorporation of traditional knowledge, practice, and belief pathways into contemporary societal systems.” [1] Another major goal outlined in the Karuk Eco-Cultural Resources Management Plan, is collaboration with Federal, State, and County authorities through truly equal partnerships. [1] “The mission of the Karuk Office of Tribal Lands Management is to expand Karuk Indian Country and manage our tribally owned property to its best use for the benefit of our members.” [5] “The Mission of the Karuk Department of Natural Resources is to protect, enhance and restore the cultural/natural resources and ecological processes upon which Karuk people depend. Natural Resources staff ensure that the integrity of natural ecosystem processes and traditional values are incorporated into resource management strategies.” [5] The protection of natural diversity is also a major goal of the Karuk as they view it as a “key means of stabilizing cultural and ecological components of natural forest, grassland, and aquatic ecosystems”. [1] The Karuk hope that the use of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) will maintain ecological balance and restore landscape resilience. [6]

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Logo of the United States Forest Service

In this case, the main interested stakeholder group would be the US Forest Service, they are the arm of the US Federal Government in charge of managing the Klamath Basin, but they ae not dependent on the basin for their livelihoods, and have no ancestral/traditional claim to the basin.

The US Forest Service

The motto of the Service is “Caring for the Land and Serving People”, and they believe that they have followed this motto since the time of Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the US Forest Service, whose own principle of “the greatest good, of the greatest number, in the long run” has also shaped the service. [7]The Forest Service recognizes that it has failed in managing the forests for the last 100 years, and that it now places emphasis on “ecosystems management and not just parcels of timber, or habitat for endangered species or protection of watershed.” [7] They have also adopted a new definition of what makes a healthy forest: “A healthy forest is one that is a fully functioning community of plants and animals and their physical environment. Such is more than "tree health" or even of "stand health". In this concept, fire, insects, and disease--at appropriate levels--are components of a healthy forest.” [7]The Service now “clearly identifies ecological restoration as the primary goal for all land management actions” due to the plethora of threats these forests face from climate change and human population growth. [7] The primary goals for Klamath, set by the Regional Forester, are: ecological restoration, and workplace safety. [7]


The Ti Bar Demonstration

The Ti Bar was a crucial moment in co-management negotiations between the Karuk and the US Forest Service, it was set up between the Forest Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as an interagency agreement with the goal to tryout some form of co-management (it was not explicitly called co-management). [4] Despite how short lived this project was, “Karuk tribal land managers view Ti Bar Demo as one of their most successful collaborations with the agency to date…the project aimed to 1) demonstrate “culturally appropriate” management techniques and 2) develop effective processes to “jointly undertake projects.” [4] During the project, Karuk managers were co-leads, meaning they had say in planning the project, and it was not just decided without their input. [4] The plan also involved prescribed burns by the Karuk, which was against the normal policies of fire suppression under the Forest service. [4] “The term eco-cultural restoration refers to restoring dynamic ecosystems and human cultures together as interconnected processes. In the case of Ti Bar Demo, applying Karuk eco-cultural resource management meant using prescribed fire and other restoration strategies to actively manage and enhance understory plants and wildlife that are most important for Karuk subsistence and ceremonial uses.” [4]

Tribal Lobbying

This agreement was largely sparked by tribal demonstrations, like a protest of logging at the top of Offield Mountain (sacred to the Karuk), the protest involved Karuk members and allies, and received large media attention; events like this led to the Forest Service wanting to consult with the Karuk, and they began monthly meetings that were “often conflict ridden” in the early 1990s. [4] The Forest Service offered to appoint a Tribal member to the Land and Resource Management Plan team, but the plan was largely done so the opportunity to provide input was minimal, the member (Hillman) who volunteered referred to the position as “one of the bones they tossed out”. [4] Later Tribal leaders successfully lobbied for the creation of “Management Area 8”, cultural management areas that include ceremonial sites. Management plans for these sites require “a signed Memorandum of Understanding between the Forest Service with the Karuk Tribe” to make sure the activities are “consistent with their (the tribe’s) custom and culture” (USDA Forest Service, as cited in Diver 2016) [4]

Implementing the Ti Bar

The Ti Bar agreement was meant as a sort test run for co-management, before it was adopted in more sensitive World Renewal sites. [4] Through its short run, the project led to the completion of several eco-cultural restoration projects by its end in 1999. [4] One of the most important members of the project, on the Forest Service side, was Jon Martin, he a new ranger in the area that was instrumental in making the project work, by bridging gaps between the Tribe and The Service. [4] He educated himself about Karuk culture and held informal events to help bring the two sides together. [4] Ron Reed (Karuk member and cultural biologist) described Martin as someone who “hung around long enough to understand what we were talking about.” [4] “Martin’s co-lead structure then pushed back on the existing policy frameworks to facilitate a meaningful decision-making role for tribal members, regardless of resistance from agency staff.” [4] Another major part of the short success of the Ti Bar was the creation of an interdisciplinary team, made up of tribal members and members of the Forest Service, this team was resisted by some, but was held together under Martin’s authority. [4] This team allowed Karuk members to create and implement their own projects, and take on a primary role in their projects. [4]

Tribal member Bill Tripp describes the management techniques used by the tribe under the project: “While we were out there, we were cutting hazel. We were doing different things like that. We didn’t say in the prescription that we were going to cut 50 hazel patches per acre. We just said that we were going to cut, limb trees, and pile and burn brush less than a certain diameter. But just that kind of prescription was enabling [for] us. We were out there doing it. We were able to do … [what] … we needed to do to enhance the resources. Though not specified in the prescription, we were able to reduce fuels while leaving species such as mature yew and dogwood that are typically smaller in diameter. So in that sense, we couldn’t meet the prescription in its entirety. But we were able to make on-the-ground decisions that reduced potential [catastrophic] fire effects as needed.”“So we let a pile get away from us at lunch. And then put it out after lunch. And it burned out a nice little area about the size of this room, like four hundred square feet. That was a little bit outside the scope of NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act], but we did it. It needed to be done. It had been a long time. We shouldn’t have to write NEPA to be an Indigenous people. So I’m not afraid to say that we went a little bit outside the box, because that’s exercising our sovereignty. We wouldn’t be exercising our sovereignty if we didn’t stretch those limits on occasion.” [4]

The end of Ti Bar

The Ti Bar project ended due to a shift in the leadership of the Forest Service, the new Forest Supervisors for Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests did not approve of the project. [4] This change in leadership caused Martin to leave, and after he left the interdisciplinary team, and eventually the entire project, collapsed. [4]

Martin described this shift in leadership: “When I first got to the ranger job, I had a couple years of supportive Forest Supervisors. . . Midway through, I got a new boss with a 180-degrees different philosophy than either of the previous supervisors. The new boss was very uncomfortable with shared decision-making and collaboration, especially with the Karuk Tribe. This was what I would call an old school philosophy . . . [that] reflected the attitude, ‘this is my ranch and I’m running it’ . . . And the staff was very much in the [same] mode with my new boss. [In their view] we were the ones to propose the projects, as the paid professionals. . . . I saw the writing on the wall and left for D.C.”

Impacts of the Ti Bar

While short-lived, the Ti Bar represented many firsts for the Karuk’s management and control of their land. [4] This was the first time the Forest Service formally recognized the Karuk’s ability, and right, to manage their cultural resources; it also helped to build up the Tribe’s capacity, generated funds for the Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources, and provided jobs to the community. [4] “Irrespective of the Forest Service’s jurisdiction over federal forests, Ti Bar restoration treatments supported many Karuk goals, including the Tribe’s inherent responsibility under Karuk World Renewal philosophy for stewarding the diversity of wildlife, plants, and non-human entities that make up the mid-Klamath landscape.” [4] If the project was going to be long-lasting, and not as short-lived, it would need to have had measures to ensure its survival even if leadership changed, and it would also require “a greater level of legal accountability”. [4] The Ti Bar acted as a sort of “pivot point”, where the community could now negotiate with the Forest Service over power sharing arrangements, this project also acts as a tool in the long-term push for self-governance and sustainability. [4]

Current Karuk Management

Much of the current management done by the Tribe is outlined in the Eco-Cultural Resources Plan they created for the management of their land. “The Eco-Cultural Resources Management Plan (ECRMP) suggests that management practices should account for future climate, environmental, and socio-cultural change, and includes programs on: air quality, cultural resources, enforcement/regulation, environmental education, environmental justice, wildland fire management, fisheries, restoration forestry, solid waste, soils/minerals, sustainable energy resource use, watershed restoration, water quality and wildlife.” (each program has an in-depth plan within the ECRMP) [6] A key part of the plan is that the Karuk believe management “should take care of the land, address people’s need, use resources wisely, and practice ecologically balanced stewardship”. [1] The traditional environmental knowledge employed by the Karuk in the plan promotes the sustainability and resilience of natural resources. [1] This knowledge also “has the potential to inform how climate change may affect cultural resources and, jointly with western science, can play a role in understanding the impacts of climate change to guide future adaptation strategies”. [6] The plan also involves community programs like environmental education projects for youth that “promote learning traditional and scientific knowledge and balanced management practices”, some examples of these projects include: “salmon surveys, aquarium incubators, gardening and recycling, native forest plants, ethnobotany, and stream monitoring”. [1] The ECRMP also recognizes the importance of controlled burns as a preventative measure to offset the impacts that fire suppression and industrial logging have put on the ecosystem. [6] The cultural practices outlined under the ECRMP also increase the productivity and complexity of the forest systems. [1] Outside of this plan, the Karuk also hope to expand into GIS to map culturally and environmentally significant practices, with an aim to “assess impacts, research/monitor existing natural resource projects, understand/model project outcomes, and coordinate management activities in planned and unplanned situations.” [6]

The Importance of Fire

The environment that the Karuk live in is dependent on “seasonal fire-induced change”, and their use of fire management has lessened the impacts of wildfires; and their knowledge of the local climate and weather patterns allows them to use fire management to “protect vulnerable habitats and species while increasing ecosystem resilience to climate change”. [1]

The Karuk describe the many impacts of fire: “Fire affects the plants, which affect the water, which affects the fish, which affect terrestrial plants and animals, all of which the Karuk rely on for cultural perpetuity. Fire, as a gift from the Creator, is believed to be a healing agent capable of producing change to restore balance when respected, understood, and utilized in an appropriate natural/cultural context.” [1]

Impacts of Climate Change

Going forward, climate change, coupled with fire suppression, and single resource management, will lead to a much greater risk of wildfire and increase the intensity of these fires. [6] “Climate change does not recognize legal boundaries or government jurisdictions, and many tribal cultural resources that will be impacted by climate change may be on federally administered public lands.” [6] In that regard, “the Karuk Tribe’s Draft Eco-Cultural Resource Management Plan presents a unique opportunity to approach the management of resources that may be affected by climate change on the basis of tribal priorities. Managing for tribal priorities while addressing climate change provides an opportunity to manage for multiple resource objectives and increase the effectiveness of plan implementation.” [6]

Interacting with the Forest Service

Since the end of the Ti Bar agreement, the extent of interaction with the Karuk has been as brief as just notifying them of decisions that have been made. [1] The importance of maintaining Forest Service Knowledge of how to interact with the Tribe has also come up since the end of the Ti Bar. [6] The Tribe’s Department of Natural Resources currently works with federal and state agencies, as well as NGOs to “to ensure that ecological resilience and traditional values are taken into account and coordinated with tribal programmatic activities in current and future management strategies.” [6]

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge


Ross's Goose; Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

The breakdown of the Ti Bar arrangement can be broken down into multiple different elements. [4]

• Sharing decision making authority, some Forest service members worried that they would be seen as playing favorites with the tribes, or that they would be illegally giving away management authority, these fears treat the Karuk as an interested group and not a sovereign nation. One member’s comments: “The Forest Service is fairly new in the Tribe’s life in this area. The Tribe has been here much longer. . . and feels more of an attachment to the land than what they see as the transient Forest Service people coming and going. We’ve been through a lot of rangers here. But each ranger will seem to have this attitude that this is their district. I’ve even seen it come with rangers on their very first day they show up to work at the district. And it’s like, ‘Ok, this is your district? A lot of people have been here for a long time, long before you even thought about coming here.’ I don’t know that they’ve really thought about it or know that they are coming across as very disrespectful to the people that had already been there.” [4]

• Acknowledging tribal expertise: Western knowledge and ‘scientific expertise’ valued over traditional knowledge of the Karuk. Ron Reed’s (Tribal member, and Ti Bar Demo co-lead) comments on this issue: “They had their maps. They had their titles. They had their privileged education that provided that [agency] resource management perspective. And if you didn’t relate to them on their level of education, you didn’t register. I felt insignificant. I couldn’t chime in on their conversation because I developed an inferiority complex. I didn’t understand their catch phrases, acronyms, or policies. I found out I had better learn this information. But what jumps [out] at me also right now is that we need to make our own rules. We need to assert our own names, our own maps.” [4]

• Negotiating knowledge and values: The Tribe was often forced to follow the federal laws and policies, while their own were often overlooked. Also hard for Forest Service staff to manage for non-monetary values Ron Reed’s comments: “[The sentiment from the Forest Service was] ‘How are you going to get your money back if you are managing for acorn trees? . . . Over here, we’re managing a million dollars worth of timber. But over there, we’re not managing for anything. It’s a waste of time.’ So that’s what I learned about Traditional Knowledge. It wasn’t looked at the way it should have been.” [4]

• Assumptions of objectivity: Assumptions made by some members of the Forest Service that they were ‘objective’ and ‘professional’, with tribal members being viewed as less qualified. [4]

• Accounting for colonial legacies: Forest Service policies criminalized Karuk practices and set federal ownership over their territory. The Agency failed to recognize how its past actions continue to affect the lives of the Karuk, even if the current agency members were not personally responsible. [4]

Conclusions from Ti Bar

The main takeaway from the Ti Bar arrangement, is not the actual work it got done, but how it opened the door to potential co-management agreements in the future. [4] The Ti Bar was a way to work within the current system, while progressing ideas that would require a completely new system of management; many tribal managers would prefer to create a new system but are forced to work within the confines of the current system. [4] Co-management can be one of the systems within the current system that helps tribes build capacity, while not infringing on their goal of self-governance. “Thus, co-management can be understood as one step towards increasing equity in natural resource management and realizing a new paradigm of post-colonial forestry.” [4] “Cases like Ti Bar Demo demonstrate how natural resource management decisions are layered on top of colonial legacies, which can lead to significant environmental justice issues. Too often, tribal communities that have experienced disproportionate impacts from extractive resource management must allocate significant resources to engaging with institutional structures that do not account for cultural diversity.” [4]

General Analyses

As a federally recognized tribe, the Karuk have a government to government relationship with the US Fed. And “as such, federal agencies have fiduciary responsibilities, which include consultation and coordination with tribes.” [6] In order to have effective inter-governmental partnerships, a strong government to government relationship and coordination with tribal engagement are required, all of this will be required for effective planning, especially in regards to climate change. [6] In general the current environmental law allows for, and even promotes the destruction of the environment. [8] “At best, the environmental law of today is used to hospice a dying planet. At a time when society must form a ‘bridge’ to a sustainable world, leading thinkers should be setting their sights on a transformational environmental principle.” [8]


The Trust Principle

“By focusing on the public’s need for survival resources and embracing the ecological reality that all components of the natural system are interdependent and therefore vital, the Nature’s Trust principle offers a holistic approach to a legal system badly afflicted by complexity, fragmentation, and artificial distinctions. At its core, the trust approach rejects political solicitude towards private, singular interests and instead demands a fiduciary duty of loyalty to the public to protect assets for present citizens and future generations. Trust principles reframe what is currently government’s discretion to destroy our atmosphere and other resources into an obligation to defend those resources—as commonly held assets in the Endowment we must hand down to our children for their survival.” [8]
The idea of a trust is an ancient arrangement, in which one party is designated to look after property for the benefit of another, the protection of the property is a major underlying duty of these arrangements.[9] Governments are set up as a trustee of natural resources because they are viewed as “the only enduring institution with control over human actions” that effect these resources., and as such, governments have the responsibility to protect these resources for the benefit of their citizens.[9] Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples set up management systems that were refined over thousands of years, which were intended to ensure that future generations would have the same availability of resources, because their very survival was linked to these resources; these systems were like a trust system.[9] When the US conquered the land, and forced these indigenous groups out, they became the new sovereign state over the land, meaning they inherited this trust and its responsibilities.[9] In cases where the lands of Indigenous Peoples were actually ceded, the cessation of control was based on the promise that their way of life would be protected by the US Federal Government, as a direct result “the federal government is deemed trustee of all Indian lands and resources, including those off the reservation that support traditional harvest”.[9] A 2001 Supreme Court decision involving the water rights of the Klamath Tribe, determined that the trust doctrine is “one of the primary cornerstones of Indian law,' . . . with the United States as trustee, the Indian tribes .. . as beneficiaries, and the property and natural resources managed by the United States as the trust corpus."[9] This “nature’s trust” is the oldest form of environmental policy in North America and it predates the United States Federal Government by millennia.[9] In order to fulfil this trust, the United States needs to do a better job in protecting the environment and protecting the traditional territory, rights, and practices of Indigenous Peoples.

The Forest Service

The US Forest Service has multiple layers of trust obligations when it comes to the Karuk. Most of their traditional territory lies on US Federal territory, and as such the US Federal Government, through the Forest Service, has the responsibility to safeguard these lands. Secondly, as an Indigenous Tribe, the US has the reasonability to safeguard the Karuk’s traditional practices and way of life, even if the treaties signed between the two were never ratified. The Karuk have forcibly had the sovereignty of their land taken away, with none of the benefits that they were promised under the treaty, the United States needs to do something to rectify this, including fulfilling their end of this trust. Lastly, the Karuk have actually placed a large portion (around 55%) of the land they currently owned into a trust with the Forest Service, and the Service needs to uphold all portions of this trust.[5] The Forest Service needs to make every effort to meaningfully involve the Karuk in the management decisions made upon their ancestral territory, they need to treat the Karuk as an equal partner in intergovernmental relationships, and they need to aid the Karuk in maintaining their traditional lifestyles, customs, and land. Ideally, the Forest service should enter into a co-management arrangement with the Karuk, that involves an equal partnership and respect for the Karuk as a sovereign nation. Much of what the Forest Service needs to do is emblematic of a larger issue that the US (and many other nations) needs to overcome, the US needs to acknowledge its colonial history towards the Indigenous Peoples of North America, and it needs to work to overcome the institutional and social barriers that have been put emplace over hundreds of years to disenfranchise these peoples.

The Karuk Tribe

The Tribe seems to be doing a good job in managing the resources it actually has control over, the main issue seems to be the amount of control they actually have. They have also proven through agreements like the Ti Bar, that they are capable of undertaking management decisions and implementing these decisions. Through their past purchases, the Tribe has brought a small amount of their traditional territory under their control, but to get more of it they will probably need to become more politically active. Within the US, the Tribe could raise awareness to how the Forest Service and other agencies (the EPA) are violating their trust responsibilities, and failing to protect the tribe both environmentally and economically. They could also look into forming agreements with other tribes in the area (like the Klamath) or around California, and the rest of the US to consolidate their political power. Internationally, the Karuk could point out different agreements the US has agreed to and are now violating like, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The US has agreed to this declaration, meaning that while it is not part of the written law of the country, they have agreed to the principles outlined, and some added international pressure may help them actually follow these principles. While it is unlikely that the Karuk will get the entirety of their traditional territory back, becoming more politically active may help them regain some of it. For the lands that the US still controls, the Karuk should (and have been trying to) enter into a true co-management agreement with the Forest Service, where they can work towards common goals and both implement better stewardship over the land.

Some of the more relevant articles of UNDRIP include:

  • Article 11 “1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature. 2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.” .[10]
  • Article 18 “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.”[10]
  • Article 19 “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”[10]
  • Article 26 “1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired. 2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired. 3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.”[10]
  • Article 27 “States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.”[10]
  • Article 28 “1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent. 2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”[10]
  • Article 29 “1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination. 2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent. 3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.”[10]
  • Article 32 “1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources. 2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources. 3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.”[10]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 Karuk Eco-Cultural Resources Management Plan
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 Oregon History Project
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lake FK, Tripp W, and Reed R. The Karuk Tribe, Planetary Stewardship, and World Renewal on the Middle Klamath River, California. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, April 2010.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 4.27 4.28 4.29 4.30 4.31 4.32 4.33 4.34 4.35 4.36 4.37 4.38 4.39 4.40 4.41 4.42 4.43 4.44 4.45 4.46 4.47 4.48 4.49 4.50 4.51 4.52 4.53 Diver, S. (2016). Co-management as a catalyst: Pathways to post-colonial forestry in the Klamath basin, California. Human Ecology, 44(5), 533-546.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Karuk Tribe Website
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 Tribal Climate
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 US Forest Service
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Wood, Mary C. 'Advancing the Sovereign Trust of Government to Safeguard the Environment for Present and Future Generations (Part II): Instilling a Fiduciary Obligation in Governance'. Environmental Law (00462276), 39-1 (2009): 91–139.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Wood, Mary C. 'EPA’s Protection of Tribal Harvests: Braiding the Agency’s Mission'. Ecology Law Quarterly, 34 (2007): 175–200.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Author's Note

I believe that when discussing issues around the rights of indigenous peoples it is important to acknowledge personal bias, so I want to acknowledge that I am of settler/colonial descent and that I have done my best to remove my personal biases from this page, but they may still remain. I also want to acknowledge that I am not attempting to speak for any group, or to co-opt their issues, I am just trying to relay my understanding of these issues, and provide my own opinions on them. Lastly I want to acknowledge that I am writing this on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded land of the Musqueam people, and that I am an uninvited guest on their land while I am studying at UBC.

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST270.