Solutions to California's Wildfires: Indigenous Stewardship and Traditional Ecological Knowledge
In 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom released a new plan to address California’s pervasive wildfires. This plan incorporates the use of controlled burns, a technique used by various Indigenous tribes of the region to cultivate the land as well as lessen wildfire severity. This announcement came shortly after Newsom’s formal apology on behalf of the state’s treatment of Native people, such as the state funded genocide, the destruction of culture and livelihoods, the encouraged kidnapping of children, forced indentured servitude, and theft of land. Though this apology and efforts toward co-management are welcomed first steps, they will need to be met with action and acknowledgement of Tribal sovereignty. Otherwise, these statements will remain no different than other empty promises made by the United States government to Tribal Nations. To build these bridges of trust, the state government will need to entrust Native communities with leading operations on forest restoration and fire management. Additionally, the removal of permitting barriers and increasing accessibility to insurance for experienced fire practitioners can help streamline the process of bringing ‘good fire’ back to the landscape when conditions are ideal. Lastly, examining methods for upgrading the grid could help with preventing devastating wildfires caused by transmission line failures. Each of these steps is imperative for increasing cooperation and collaboration as well as shielding California from the impacts of climate change that are projected to worsen wildfire severity and frequency over the next century.