Wildfire Mitigation and Traditional Knowledge

EJ John

Policy & Research Analyst

This month is National wildfire awareness month, and it is an important time for those of us who live in regions prone to wildfires. Wildfires have been a threat to ecosystems, human life, and property, many Tribes live in areas that face regular wildfires such as forests, grasslands, and prairies. Here in the southwest, wildfires are intensified by the hot and dry conditions of ongoing drought. However, the threat is spreading to more areas around the world. According to a 2022 UN Environment Programme report, wildfires are burning more frequently and with greater intensity, and in areas that do not normally experience them.

Wildfires are part of the larger ecosystem which is impacted by other factors such as human actions and annual rain/snowfall. Therefore, any and all available data and knowledge on the environment and ecosystem is needed to adequately address the effects of wildfires. Tribal nations in the U.S. and Indigenous peoples all over the world have a profound knowledge and understanding of their homelands. This indigenous knowledge also spans thousands of years. The National Park Service recognizes the value of Indigenous knowledge and is partnering with Tribal communities to mitigate and prevent wildfires. Traditional ecological knowledge has long used controlled burns and other practices to promote healthy tree growth, animal habitats, and soil quality. In addition, Tribes are negotiating agreements to control and manage crucial water resources that are critical during wildfires. In 2019, AIPI analyzed one of these agreements here in Arizona. Tribes are becoming more involved in wildfire mitigation efforts with their own firefighters, BIA wildfire programs, and state committees.

Unfortunately at the time of this writing there are wildfires burning in Arizona and New Mexico. Northern New Mexico is fighting the massive Hermit’s Peak Fire which has burned 236,939 acres so far. The Hermit’s Peak Fire is currently threatening a number of Northern New Mexico communities including Taos Pueblo. Also in New Mexico, The Cerro Pelado Fire has burned 43,376 acres and is near several Pueblo communities including Jemez and Cochitti. In the last few weeks, Arizona experienced the Crooks and Tunnel Fires near Yavapai and Navajo Nation lands. We at AIPI are keeping these communities and all who are impacted by wildfire in our thoughts and we pray for the safety and success of all firefighting personnel.