Yurok Tribe Reacquires 50,000 Acres of Forest

Yurok Executive Director Javier Kinney spoke about how this achievement would not be possible without collaboration. (Yurok Tribe/Facebook)

For decades, the Yurok Tribe witnessed the degradation of their ancestral territory. Their solution to protect one of the most biologically rich areas on Earth? To own it.

The Tribe has purchased approximately 50,000 acres of forest surrounding four salmon sustaining streams, including Blue Creek, the lifeline of the Klamath River. The acquisition contributes to the Yurok Tribe’s efforts to increase resiliency to climate change through carbon sequestration and sustainable forest management.

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On Monday, the Yurok Tribe, Green Diamond Resource Company and Western Rivers Conservancy, as well as many of their supporters, celebrated their hard-won effort to preserve and place the land into Tribal ownership. 

“It is a good day for the Yurok people,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, on Monday. “On behalf of the Yurok Tribe, I would like thank Green Diamond and Western Rivers for assisting us in the reacquisition of a significant part of our ancestral territory and putting us in a position to permanently protect the Blue Creek watershed, which is the crown jewel of the Klamath River. These organizations have stood by us every step of the way during this 10-year project.”

Green Diamond Vice President and General Manager, Jason Carlson reflected on the process to achieve the land transfer:

“Over 15 years ago Green Diamond VP, Neal Ewald and Tribal representatives, including past Council Chairs Sue Masten and Thomas O’Rourke, and Executive Director Troy Fletcher discussed the concept of the Tribe acquiring our timberlands on the east side of the Klamath from Blue Creek upriver to the confluence with the Trinity. We had previously worked with Western Rivers Conservancy on the Goose Creek- US Forest Service transaction and knew they could help secure conservation and funding partners. We are very pleased to see the successful completion of this multi-phase, multi-year project that culminated with the transfer of the Blue Creek drainage. These lands provide the Tribe a nearly continuous ownership that can be managed as a working forest and for the cultural resources that are vital to the Yurok people.”

“This is a historic and joyous moment,” said Western Rivers Conservancy President, Sue Doroff. “The Yurok Tribe has been reunited with Blue Creek, and we have finally ensured that this all-important tributary of the Klamath River will forever remain a source of cold, clean water and a refuge for the incredible fish and wildlife that depend on it.”

In 2006, the two organizations and the Tribe formed a partnership whose primary objectives were to facilitate the transfer of the land to the Tribe and conserve Blue Creek.

During this period, Green Diamond and Western Rivers Conservancy held the land, while the Yurok Tribe and Western Rivers Conservancy pursued funds for the acquisition. Financial support was secured from myriad sources, including: funds from the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act; the New Market Tax Credits program; The Kendeda Fund; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Wyss Foundation; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation/Acres for America and Walmart Stores, Inc.; Wildlife Conservation Board; California Coastal Conservancy; other private, state and federal grants; loans from the California State Water Quality Control Board and Indian Land Capital Company; and the sale of carbon offsets.

In addition to Blue Creek, parcels in the Pecwan, Ke’pel and Weitchpec Creek drainages are included in the project. The latter three properties will become part of the Tribe’s Community Forest. The Tribe plans to manage the lands to support native wildlife in addition to the production of a wide variety of traditional foods and basket-weaving materials. The acquisition contributes to the Yurok Tribe’s efforts to increase resiliency to climate change through carbon sequestration and sustainable forest management.

The Tribe is restoring approximately 15,000 acres in Blue Creek into an old-growth forest and a Salmon Sanctuary. Blue Creek is one of the most important Klamath River tributaries, providing a critical thermal refuge area for migrating salmon as well as forest habitat for sensitive wildlife species. During the fall Chinook salmon run, the water at the mouth of the creek can be 20 degrees cooler than the main-stem of the river. In most years, thousands of fish, stressed by dam-warmed water temperatures, rest and recharge below Blue Creek in order to make it to the upriver spawning grounds in a healthy condition.

Yurok biologists, foresters and cultural experts are nearly finished with a comprehensive plan to create the one-of-its-kind Salmon Sanctuary. Containing a Yurok-specific blend of Traditional Knowledge and western science, the Blue Creek Interim Management Plan aims to enhance forest and aquatic habitats to bolster fish populations and improve the watershed’s already exceptional biological diversity. The long-term blueprint will guide the restoration of habitat for endangered species including coho salmon, marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl and Humboldt marten, along with other culturally important fish and mammals such as Chinook salmon, black-tailed deer, and Roosevelt elk. The Management Plan includes a comprehensive, hypothesis-based monitoring and assessment plan component that will inform the adaptive management of the innovative reserve for many centuries to come.

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