Photo Credit: Tucked away in northwestern California, the community of Orleans experienced significant loss due to a wildfire in 2013. Since then, we’ve been using spatial fire planning to chart a better path toward wildfire resilience, including leveraging the wildfire footprint to create additional fuel breaks around our community. Photo by Thomas Dunklin

The first meetings of the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) felt like going on a blind date … with 60 people! As our facilitator, Mary Huffman, divided us at various tables, she made sure we were sufficiently separated from our affinity groups. “Divorce” seemed imminent. Instead, tenuous bridges based on each other’s truths started to form.

Bill Estes, the preacher from Happy Camp who tended a congregation ravaged by underemployment, envisioned a return to the “golden years” (the logging boom).

“When the logs were flowing and the schools were full, this town had a soul and there was almost no drug use,” he remembered. “Now half the town is shuttered and the remaining families are just hanging on…”

“Yes, but that clearcutting claimed a majority of our old-growth forest habitat,” mused Klamath Forest Alliance executive director Kimberly Baker. “Isn’t there a way to have a vibrant community without sacrificing the things we love?”

“The land is sick right now. When our people managed this land with fire, the rivers were full of fish and the forests were open and healthy,” offered Karuk Tribe cultural biologist Ron Reed.

From Stereotypes to Shared Values

Although the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership officially launched in 2013 with that “blind date” meeting, the conflicts surrounding the issues we’re trying to address are decades, and in some instances centuries, old. From timber wars to the genocide of indigenous people, the stakes couldn’t have been higher when we first started. It was easy to categorize, or stereotype, everyone at the table: “the tribal member,” “the logger,” “the environmentalist.” But as we took time to get to know one another, we began to realize how nuanced, and often overlapping our values actually were.

Some members of the Karuk Tribe worked as loggers. Environmentalists weren’t all “preservationists” by default, and supported Traditional Ecological Knowledge and mechanical thinning in roadside plantations. Loggers expressed a deep connection to fishing and restoring rivers. Seeing people for their entire selves, rather than assuming that they fit into one simple category revealed where our values overlapped, and quite literally, where we could work together.

Profile pictures of six WKRP participants, with short bios: Ben Saxon is a technical specialist with the Wildlife Program at the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources. A jack of all trades, he has decommissioned roads, removed vegetation around homes, surveyed for archaeological resources, as well as participated in and provided resources for ceremonies. Kimberly Baker is the executive director of the Klamath Forest Alliance and has effectively advocated for wildlands and nonhuman inhabitants for over 20 years in the Klamath Mountains and beyond. She also sees people as part of place, and works to find the balance where all living things can thrive; Carol Sharp is a retired silviculturist from the Klamath National Forest (Happy Camp Ranger District). Over the past five years, Carol has volunteered more time than anyone else to WKRP, sharing her extensive knowledge from a career spent caring for forests. She is also active in the Happy Camp Fire Safe Council. Clint Isbell is the fire ecologist for the Klamath National Forest and has worked extensively on incident management teams corralling wildfires and implementing large-scale prescribed burns. He has one foot in science and one foot in practice. Jon Grunbaum is a fisheries biologist for the Klamath National Forest who has built effective partnerships to implement large-scale fish habitat restoration projects. He is also active in the Happy Camp Fire Safe Council. Nolan Colegrove is the Orleans/Lower Trinity district ranger on the Six Rivers National Forest, and also a ceremonial leader of the Hupa People.

Seeing beyond singularity: By taking the time — in some cases years — to get to know our partners, we began to understand their, and collectively our, multifaceted values.

Merging Multiple Values into One Vision

Four different maps of the same area, each map combining different variables, changing the color scheme

Through a series of meetings, we created a list of what WKRP partners individually cared about. Then, we put those values on a map. Sometimes the data layers already existed, such as past wildfire footprints, but other times, we had to create and digitize this spatial data manually. In those cases, partners always had the opportunity to participate in collecting the data, so they felt comfortable with its integrity. Each value essentially became a data layer, or multiple layers. People’s eyes lit up as their “layers” appeared on our project prioritization map, or what we called our “overlay assessment.” Then, we designed WKRP pilot projects based on these prioritized treatment areas. Each partner knew that our project plans accounted for what they cared about.

The Magic Beyond the Map

The more values that are present on a given parcel of land, the redder the parcel. For example, an area that contains a home and critical elk habitat (so two values at risk) is deemed redder than another area that contains only a home.

As we added more and more “values” (i.e., data layers*) to the map, priority restoration areas morphed. The areas displayed in red on the final map, “All,” visualized where we collectively agreed to work; those were the areas with the most values present that would benefit from restoration.

So, What’s Happening as a Result?

This process helped our collaborative write specific prescriptions for what is now known as the Somes Bar Integrated Fire Management Project. Project implementation will begin this spring and will involve mechanically treating 809 acres as well as manually treating 1,500 acres, in preparation for applying prescribed fire to 5,500 acres.

Want to Share Our Approach?

If you’re looking to share this approach with partners, check out the printer-friendly PDF-version of this story below, and click here to download and print it (577KB).



Author’s note: The examples listed in red on maps 1–3 are not exhaustive. Several additional variables, or values, were included in each map. See Tables 1-4 for a complete list of the values mapped.

Table of 23 data layers used in spatial planning process

Table: Data layers used in sample maps above

*As you read through these various datasets, you might be inclined to subconsciously group them with certain stakeholders (i.e., “Oh, Map X must be the layers the Fire Safe Council advocated for.”) If you find yourself doing that, reread the section on “From Stereotypes to Shared Values.” Many of our partners care deeply about layers included in each sample map displayed above. Email will[at]mkwc[dot]org for more information on the geospatial analyses we conducted.

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