The Yurok Tribe, from the Klamath River Basin, is the largest federally recognised tribe in what is currently called California, with over 5000 enrolled members. Since 2013, the Yurok Tribe has negotiated participation in the California Air Resources Board (CARB)'s cap-and-trade program for carbon offsetting, using the carbon sequestration of their forested lands to obtain carbon credits. With the income generated through their participation in the programme, the Yurok Tribe has bought over 60,000 acres of previously dispossessed land, and developed the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program that implements Yurok forest management approaches (including controlled burns) and habitat restoration in the Klamath River watershed.

California Condor (Prey-go-neesh) Livestream

The California condor (prey-go-neesh) A1 prior to being released. Image source: Yurok Tribe [image]. Retrieved 13 July 2022, from https://www.yuroktribe.org/post/nccrp-sets-release-date-for-fourth-and-final-member-of-first-condor-cohort

One impact of the Yurok Tribe's reacquisition of ancestral land has been facilitating the reintroduction of the prey-go-neesh/California condor through the Northern California Condor Restoration Program (NCCRP) in partnership with Redwood National and State Parks. The prey-go-neesh is important to Yurok cosmologies and efforts to restore the ancestral forest ecosystem. Viewers can access a live feed of the condors, the first of which were released in May 2022.

Yurok Tribe Carbon Offsetting

The Yurok Tribe established the first forest carbon offset project under the California Compliance Offset Protocol. For each metric ton of carbon the Yurok Tribe can prove its forests have sequestered from the atmosphere, CARB issues an offset credit, which polluting industries can then buy in order to comply with the state’s greenhouse-gas-emissions cap.

In order to participate in the carbon market, the Yurok Tribe has used a range of mechanisms and funding sources to buy back ancestral lands from a large timber company. As Manning and Reed (2019) document, these mechanisms have included partnerships with a conservation non-profit, federal loans, New Market Tax Credits (NMTCs), and financing from the Australian green investment company New Forests. The Yurok have increased their land base to over 100,000 acres, and used carbon offset income for a range of ecological restoration projects, including the Yurok Tribe Fire Department that helps to tackle forest fires and implements controlled burns in the redwood forests using Yurok Traditional Ecological Knowledge. However, the Yurok's participation in the scheme has created debate among members around ways of negotiating (settler colonial) state regulation and governance structures, and complicity with ongoing resource extraction and pollution. Since the Yurok Tribe started participating, thirteen other tribes and Alaska Native corporations have become involved in California’s cap-and-trade program, and collectively receive around half of all forest offset credits issued through the scheme.

Although the cap-and-trade program largely uses on-the-ground fieldwork for assessing and verifying carbon sequestration, in 2022, the Yurok Tribe received a $5 million grant from the US Department of Commerce for an aircraft equipped with high-resolution environmental mapping, LiDAR, and aerial imaging technologies. The aircraft will be used in the Yurok's environmental restoration programmes and to develop contract mapping, data collection, and analysis services for government agencies, nonprofits, and private businesses, building capacity for Indigenous data sovereignty in Yurok lands.

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