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Karuk Lead Fire Restoration Project

Liam Moriarty/ JPR News

The Karuk Tribe are getting back to traditional Native American fire management in a project with the U.S. Forest Service in Northern California.

The two groups will host a controlled burn near the Lower Klamath River as part of the Somes Bar project.“Fire is a tool for us, we’ve been using it for centuries,” said David Medford Rubalcaba told the Jefferson Exchange. Rubalcaba heads the Karuk Tribe’s Integrated Fire and Fuels Management Program.

He says managing forests through controlled burns has long been part of Native American tradition. They’re sometimes called “cultural burns.”

“We believe the flames are our relatives,” Rubalcaba said.”  They're our brothers and sisters. We have that personal relationship with fire.”

Cultural burns ceased when the U.S. government implemented its own fire management plan that included suppressing fires.

Now, with new research showing that the forests need fire to clear thick brush, the Karuk Tribe can return to traditional burns.

Rubalcaba says the tribe will begin the Somes Bar shortly.

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Geoffrey Riley is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has hosted the Jefferson Exchange on JPR since 2009. He's been a broadcaster in the Rogue Valley for more than 35 years, working in both television and radio.