The Yurok Ancestral Territory, which spans northwestern California from the coastal redwood-spruce rainforest to inland forests and prairies, has provided the Yurok Tribe with an abundance of food and cultural resources for millennia. The Yurok Tribe maintains stewardship responsibility for their Ancestral Lands, which include the Yurok Reservation, and is concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on culturally significant species and the ecosystems that support them.
This project had two broad objectives: The first was to meet the needs of the Yurok Tribe in collecting traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to identify priority areas and activities for helping the Tribe plan for and respond to climate change. The second objective was to provide a culturally appropriate model for how tribes and non-tribal entities (including federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) could collect, document, and integrate TEK into decision making. TEK is often proprietary, culturally sensitive, and privileged information, even within a tribal community. Researchers sought to develop a process that would protect the confidentiality and intellectual property rights of community members to preserve the integrity of the information and wisdom involved and to reinforce the responsibility of those who possess and share it.
Researchers conducted structured interviews with elders from the Yurok Tribe and used ethnographic methods to analyze the results. From this analysis, several general themes emerged. For example, Yurok elders have a good understanding of how the environment has changed over the last 200 years. They identified numerous species, including salmon, sturgeon, elk, and porcupine, whose populations have undergone serious declines in the past century. In addition, elders were particularly concerned about observed changes in temperature, flow, and water quality of the Klamath River. These and other environmental changes could disrupt traditional ways of Yurok life.
This project was jointly supported by the Northwest Climate Science Center and the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative.