Revitalizing Watershed Management Through Karuk Indigenous Ecological Knowledge

EPA Grant Number: FP917366
Title: Revitalizing Watershed Management Through Karuk Indigenous Ecological Knowledge
Investigators: Sarna-Wojcicki, Daniel R
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Tribes and American Indian/Alaska Native/Pacific Islander Communities


This project examines the effectiveness of institutional arrangements for translating the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and indigenous management practices of the Karuk Tribe into formal watershed management policy in the Karuk’s aboriginal territory of Northern California. Through a detailed investigation of the processes through which Karuk representatives and community members participate in official knowledge production and decision making, this research aims to illuminate barriers to knowledge integration, conflict resolution, community participation and government-to-government collaboration in watershed management. Watershed management policy that accurately embodies the Karuk Tribe’s values and knowledge in a culturally appropriate institutional framework is vital to the restoration of ecosystem processes and water quality conditions in the region as well as to the culture, health and self-governance of the Tribe.


The first stage of research aims to map out the various legal, political and administrative mechanisms that underwrite the translation of Karuk TEK and indigenous management practices into official watershed management policy. This complex institutional landscape includes Basin-wide deliberative forums and task forces, Sub-basin planning committees, water quality control plans, local watershed councils, court decisions, endangered species habitat protection plans and memoranda of understanding between the Karuk Tribe and various federal and state resource management agencies. Through document analysis, participant observation in public consultation and comment sessions, and interviews with community members and federal, state and Tribal representatives, this research will evaluate institutions’ ability to effectively represent Karuk values and knowledge in watershed management policy and practice.

Expected Results:

Through observing the process of translation in a number of forums, this research aims to elucidate a set of “due-process principles” to inform the uptake of Karuk TEK and guide Karuk participation in resource management. By illuminating barriers to effective tribal participation and meaningful translation of Karuk values and knowledge, this project works towards developing an institutional framework that will allow the Tribe to restore the ecological foundations of their cultural heritage and community health. Such a framework will contribute to federal, state and local resource management agency efforts to resolve longstanding resource conflicts in the Klamath Basin and fulfill Tribal participation mandates. In addition, developing culturally appropriate forums that can mobilize this rich source of local environmental knowledge supports efforts to restore ecological function in a region with seven major rivers listed as water quality impaired and several terrestrial and aquatic species listed as endangered or threatened.

Potential to Further Environmental/ Human Health Protection

Encompassing terrestrial and aquatic ecological processes, the watershed provides an integrated unit of resource management. The Karuk Tribe’s vision of eco-cultural restoration pushes integrated resource management even further by focusing on the intricate connections between fire disturbance regimes, vegetation dynamics, erosion, run-off, in-stream conditions and fish habitat and in highlighting the importance of such ecological processes to cultural integrity and community health. In investigating how institutions can overcome conflicting knowledge, value and right claims to manage resources collaboratively, sustainably and effectively, this research aims to contribute to academic and policy debates regarding the design of resilient and democratic institutions capable of facing 21st Century resource management challenges.

Supplemental Keywords:

traditional ecological knowledge, cultural resource management, indigenous rights, social-ecological resilience, institutional analysis

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final