Karuk Tribe Climate Adaptation Plan

Karuk have lived in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains in the mid-Klamath River region of northern California beyond documented history, and now face severe climate change impacts to their territory and way of life. The Karuk Climate Adaptation Plan details climate impacts and adaptation strategies for the Karuk tribe and culture, local species and habitats, human health, critical infrastructure, tribal programs, tribal sovereignty and management authority. The climate adaptations evaluated have combined western science and Karuk traditional knowledge, and are recommended based on 22 focal species cultural indicators “for human responsibilities and necessary human actions” across seven habitat management zones.

The Karuk Tribe published a Climate Vulnerability Assessment in 2016 that focused on the vulnerabilities from the increased frequency of high severity wildfire. This adaptation plan centers on strategies to restore traditional low severity fire regimes - which can support both adaptation and mitigation efforts, as a reduction in high severity fires could result in a reduction in forest carbon emissions. The plan includes adaptation strategies for electrical infrastructure on the Karuk lands with 104 proposed prescribed fire treatment units totaling 4,862 acres, along 41 miles of power corridor around the communities of Somes Bar and Orleans.

The first chapter of this report is an in-depth summary of a suite of climate trends for the Klamath Region and the results of the Karuk’s climate vulnerability assessment. The prominent and current climate change impacts on Karuk Aboriginal Territory include altered precipitation patterns, decreased snowpack, increasing droughts, increasing frequency and severity of wildfires, reduced streamflow, and disease and pest outbreaks.

Each of the seven focal habitats evaluated have a comprehensive review including the ecological and cultural values, traditional ecological management, current and projected climate impacts and intervening stressors, and adaptation strategies across time scales.

Cultural indicators for each of these ecosystems include primary wildlife and tree species that are significant for survival and traditions within these habitat types. For example, adaptations for riverine systems include management and protection of spring chinook salmon and Pacific lamprey, and the Pacific Giant Salamander is a key indicator for the entire riverine, riparian and forest system.

The plan also comprehensively reviews physical and mental health impacts and adaptive strategies for health in terms of near and long-term timeframes. As further detailed in the report, the physical health impacts of climate change affecting the Karuk include heat stress, increasing rates of asthma, food and water contamination, and diet related diseases in the face of reduced access to traditional foods. Mental health is impacted by stress and anxiety related to wildfires, food insecurity, smoke and emergency events, and cultural and spiritual impacts of ecosystem decline and species loss.

Climate change impacts including flooding, power outages, road closures and increasing frequency of storms and high severity fires are already impacting Karuk Tribal Program Capacity. Adaptation strategies are described for Programs related to: Food Security, Water Quality, Fisheries, Integrated Watershed Restoration, and Wildland Fire Management.

For example, the following table illustrates climate impacts and adaptation measures analyzed for watershed restoration:

The report outlines key potential adaptations related to Karuk tribal sovereignty and management authority including:

  • the revitalization of cultural indicators for fire applications,
  • utilizing and developing expanded Federal compacting authorities,
  • increasing outreach and coordination with agency partners,
  • expanding public education,
  • continuing coordination with University partners for research and monitoring, and
  • possible development of Air Quality and Climate Adaptation Programs.


While the changing climate poses serious threats for Karuk culture, sovereignty and all life on earth, it is perhaps most productively viewed as an opportunity to assert and expand Karuk traditional practices, tribal management authority, sovereignty and culture.”


Publication Date: August 16, 2019

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Kari Norgaard
  • William Tripp

Related Organizations:

  • Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan

States Affected:


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