Revitalized Karuk and Yurok Cultural Burning to Enhance California Hazelnut for Indigenous Basketweaving, Klamath Basin, California

Authors: Tony Marks-Block*, California State University, East Bay, Frank K Lake, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Fire and Fuels Program, USDA Forest Service, Rebecca Bliege Bird, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: American Indians, Basketry, California, Corylus cornuta var. californica, Indigenous resource use, Prescribed fire, Resource management
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 21
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Karuk and Yurok Tribes in Northwestern California are revitalizing the practice of cultural burning, which is the implementation of prescribed burns to enhance ecocultural species. These cultural burns are critical for Indigenous livelihoods and culture, and were widespread prior to the establishment of fire exclusion policies. One of the major objectives of cultural burning is to enhance California hazelnut (Corylus cornuta Marsh var. californica) basketry stem production for Karuk and Yurok basketweavers. In collaboration with basketweavers we monitored hazelnut basketry stem production, qualities, and shrub density in 48 plots (each 400 square meters) within two prescribed and 19 cultural burn sites. We also observed basketry stem gathering to compare travel distances, gathering rates, and basketweaver preferences across sites with different fire histories and land tenure. Our results strongly concur with basketweaver knowledge, as hazelnut shrubs, one growing season post-burn, produced a 13-fold increase in basketry stems compared with shrubs growing 3 or more seasons post-burn (p < 0.0001). Plots burned at high frequency (3 or more burn events from 1989 to 2019) had 1.86-fold greater hazelnut shrubs than plots experiencing <3 burn events (p < 0.0001). Basketweavers travelled 3.8-fold greater distance to reach gathering sites burned by wildfires compared with those that were culturally burned (p < 0.01). At cultural burn sites, wildfire sites, and fire excluded sites, mean gathering rates were 4.9, 1.6, and 0.5 stems/minute/individual, respectively. Our findings show that increasing Tribal sovereignty over fire management improves ecocultural species and socio-economic well-being.

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