Ancestral lands around the lower Klamath River in California now officially belong to the Yurok Tribe, after its acquisition of 22,237 acres from the Green Diamond Resource Company in Humboldt County, the tribe announced on April 13.
“The Tribe has long sought the return of ancestral land to create a salmon sanctuary and restore tribal cultural management practices, which benefit fish, wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said in a statement.
The purchase is the latest in a series of moves the Yurok have made over several years to reacquire and restore ancestral lands.
This 34-square-mile purchase, done with help from the Western Rivers Conservancy, will be set aside as a Yurok Tribal Community Forest and more than double the tribe’s land base. The tribe plans a sustainable forestry management approach to protect salmon, clean up the water and restore meadows for traditional subsistence hunting and gathering, the statement said.
Three tributary creeks that flow through the property into the lower Klamath River will be improved as well. The Pecwan, Ke’pel and Weitchpec Creeks “provide vital cold water and spawning grounds for the many anadromous Klamath fish species,” the release said.
“This is a historic accomplishment to ensure clean, cold water for the Klamath River’s salmon runs while reestablishing a portion of the Yurok’s homeland,” said Phillip Wallin, President of Western Rivers Conservancy, in a statement with the Yurok.
“This is the culmination of almost 23 years of collaboration with the Yurok Tribe, commencing with the establishment of the Hoopa/Yurok Settlement Act of 1988. Our company is proud of our role in partnering with the Yurok and Western Rivers Conservancy to see this landscape moved into the Tribe’s stewardship,” said Neal Ewald, vice president and general manager of Green Diamond Resource Company, in the statement.
The move stemmed from a December vote by California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to authorize financing of $18.75 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for the Yurok Tribe to purchase the land.
“The State Water Resources Control Board supports this project as part of our program to continue to reduce nonpoint source pollution in California’s waterways,” said Esteban Almanza, head of SWRCB’s Division of Financial Assistance, in the joint statement. “This is an excellent project that provides multiple benefits to water quality and salmon habitat, and meets the high standards of management practices toward the success of our program objectives.”
The tribe’s practices of limiting road-building, increasing forest diversity, setting aside carbon reserves and not using herbicides, among other management prescriptions, help meet state pollution limitations on the Klamath, Almanza said.
It will also protect the habitat of seven aquatic species, including coho salmon, steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, coastal cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, southern torrent salamander, and tailed frog, which was called for years ago in the Green Diamond’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation Plan. In the forest, the tribe’s policies will promote diversity and cultivate old-growth habitat, benefitting the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, fisher, Humboldt marten and mardon skipper.
In addition to being a major conservation achievement, this project is also a major cultural accomplishment. The Yurok Tribe has long sought to regain this ancestral territory to rejuvenate traditional cultural practices, including subsistence fishing, hunting, gathering and basket-weaving, the press release said.
“The Yurok Tribe looks forward to managing these lands in the way they were meant to be, which is for all species,” Chairman O’Rourke said.