CalEPA Wildfire Education Project

About the Project

Fire has had a longstanding role in shaping California’s ecosystem. Historically, the environment was made resilient and highly biodiverse through seasonal, prescribed burns of forests, chaparral and grasslands by California Indians. California is now beset with catastrophic wildfires. In 2015 and 2017, massive wildfires (Valley Fire, North Bay Fires) in Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino counties produced unprecedented air pollution, water pollution and other environmental hazards. In 2018, wildfires across California devastated several counties throughout the state. As California’s climate changes and hot dry weather and drought conditions worsen, incidences of severe wildfires are expected to increase (California State Emergency Plan, 2017).

Tribes need to be able to protect their members and their environments and cultural-natural resources from these threats. Fires can impact both tribal lands where tribes have varying capacity to exercise jurisdiction over environmental concerns; and lands, waterways and airways that are not under their jurisdiction but may have significant impacts on tribal lands or where the tribes have significant environmental interests. It is imperative that tribes are able to effectively participate in multi-jurisdictional responses to these hazards as tribal trust lands are very small and much of the wildfire related pollution has occurred on lands and in waterways and airways in which tribes have significant environmental interests but lack jurisdiction to regulate environmental quality.

This project will produce three tabletop exercises that employ multi-jurisdictional strategies to respond to wildfire pollution hazards, wildfire disaster response and recovery scenarios. The project will conduct the exercises with tribes and their multi-jurisdictional partners in the regions in three, one-day in-person workshops and make them available online for use and/or adaptation by other tribes and regions. The exercises will provide information and build tribes’ knowledge and skills to be empowered participants in multi-jurisdictional decision-making and responses to wildfire related environmental and public health hazards so that tribal interests and the health needs of their members are represented in the decision-making and actions of federal, state and local agencies. The project will serve 21 federally recognized California tribes in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties and provide an online educational resource that may be used and/or adapted by 88 other California federally recognized tribes upon its completion.