Western Klamath Restoration Partnership press release: 


After six years of planning, and decades of problem solving and conflict resolution, the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) has started its pilot project: the Somes Bar Integrated Fire Management Project (Somes Project). WKRP was awarded $5 million from California’s Climate Investments (CCI) statewide program to jumpstart the project inside the large 1.2 million-acre planning area. The statewide program puts billions of dollars to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy, and improve public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities.

In the wake of one of the worst fire seasons in history, CALFIRE and the state of California are investing in groups working to protect the state’s forests and the communities that live within them from the increasingly devastating effects of wildfire.

The Somes Project encompasses 5,500 acres that mixes national forestland and private landownerships in an area historically (and currently) populated and utilized by indigenous Karuk people, who are also current co-leads of WKRP. Innovation by planners of this project is rooted in decades of knowledge working to increase forest health and fire resiliency, but also from integration of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of the Karuk people developed over millennia. Additionally, what makes WKRP unique is the long-term, ongoing collaboration amongst many local organizations, Fire Safe Councils, residents, and private landowners. People have been working together here in a way that is special and valuable to other similar restoration efforts.

Key WKRP leaders that worked together to push this project forward include: the Karuk Tribe, Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), Six Rivers National Forest (SRNF), Klamath National Forest (KNF), Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW), U.S. Forest Service Remote Sensing Lab, Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC), and Orleans - Somes Bar and Happy Camp Fire Safe Councils, and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project.

Nolan Colegrove, District Ranger for the SRNF, credited the critical role of partners in the planning process. “The entire effort would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of many individuals coming together to work collaboratively toward a common goal and shared values,” he said.

WKRP formed in 2013 when partners were committed to overcoming challenges and disagreement on how to restore degrading forests by reintroducing beneficial fire to the fire adapted landscape in order to create resilient conditions. Motivated by the sense of urgency to the mounting ecological and budgetary crises of national wildfire management, WKRP is developing creative solutions to safeguard its landscape and the people that live here. The 1.2 million-acre planning area encompasses Karuk aboriginal territory; it also spans the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests, as well as a myriad of remote-rural townships.

In addition to the Karuk Tribe and local non-profit organizations, WKRP’s broader partnerships that span the local to national level have elevated its unique contributions toward helping solve the national wildland fire crisis. Bill Tripp, group co-founder and Deputy Director of the Karuk Tribe Dept. of Natural Resources, captured the complexity and importance of these partners working together. “This project is a great example of how federal, tribal, state, NGO and other collaborative programs can align. It will take all of us working together to address the hard truths of our age.” Tripp said.

The Somes Bar project treatments were laboriously and collaboratively developed to effectively reduce wildland fire risk, restore fire processes and ecosystem function, protect existing carbon, and increase carbon storage at the landscape scale. WKRP is working to protect communities and to allow fire managers more options to manage wildfires for resource objectives. The group’s innovative approach combines TEK with western science for fire management. Karuk TEK strategies were developed to maximize diversity, resiliency, and resource production. These strategies are being coupled with western science to help inform its application given present day realities.

WKRP’s embarking on an ambitious set of objectives being catalyzed by the Somes Project and CALFIRE grant. MKWC Director Will Harling described widespread implications of the pilot project. “The work is a road map for solving many of California’s rural fire problems.” Part of Harling’s reference involves the annual Klamath Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) event, which enhances local administrative and workforce capacity for future WKRP projects. This year marks the 7th annual TREX, and it takes place from October 7–19th.

Both TREX and the Somes Project incorporate key involvement of private landowners so projects get implemented across public and private land property boundaries. “This is how we will learn to use prescribed fire as a meaningful tool in the wildland-urban interface again,” Harling said.