Time to overhaul our systems: a conversation with Bill Tripp

“We need to resolve the fact that our solutions to today’s problems are considered unnatural. Fire exclusion is unnatural. I can’t say I completely understand the politics of individuals and how that is in play in the discussion, nor do I feel I need to, because I know my story and I respect the story of others. It is, after all, the outcomes of our collective action that will ultimately be the measure of our resolve.” – Bill Tripp

Let’s start with the current situation. Two weeks ago, smoke readings at local monitoring stations in the Klamath Basin were well in excess of 700 AQI (for more on AQI). This is “beyond hazardous” according to Bill Tripp, KDNR Director of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy. Our harsh and traumatic reality of ongoing hazardous smoke amidst devastating wildfires comes amidst ongoing, strengthening calls for careful, caring pathways out of our current fire and smoke cycles (see here for a recent example of such a call). Bill notes that the Clean Air Act’s regulations on human-caused smoke actually feeds into the problems we’re living through now and getting in the way of getting ahead. 

While the terms ‘fire exclusion’ and ‘climate change’ are being bandied about a lot these past few weeks across California, Bill points to the root cause of “removing Indigenous people from the ecosystem” (see here for more insight on that from Bill and others). This means that certain current pending solutions such as retrofitting homes and other buildings to keep people breathing healthy during worsening fire seasons will only go so far. What is missing…and actively regulated against…are such solutions as burning tanoak stands at night because that is when folks are in their homes. (Such a local solution is banned due to regulators not wanting smoke to settle in the Klamath Valley.) Piecemeal solutions that don’t get to root causes, or come one by one, will remain just that, piecemeal. 

To address these gnarly intertwined problems, we must rethink our systems. Our natural resource management systems, our ‘natural’ disaster emergency response systems, our funding systems. Bill cites the KDNR endeavors with high potential with the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership, Píkyav Field Institute, and the Karuk-UCB Collaborative, among others. As a director, his mind goes to: how do we support this work long-term? If Tribal employees and community members keep having to shift their work just to match grant cycles and funder priorities, the solutions will, again, remain piecemeal. Bill points to some current hopeful conversations happening in the UC system about their history and role as land grant institutions (see here for “UC Land Grab” series). Such conversations and the actions stemming from them could bring about big, lasting change, addressing those root causes of removal of Indigenous people and systemic racism. In funding, in enabling further cultural Indigenous fire management, in ensuring community health and wellbeing. (Learn and connect about this through #EndowActionNow)