Centering land management and community wellbeing: the SAFE project

This year, the Karuk Tribe (KDNR), Blue Lake Rancheria (Sustainability Office) and Schatz Energy Center (Schatz Center at HSU) have come together around their shared motivation to provide resilient technology that helps people manage smoke, air quality, and energy. The realities, needs, and visions around fire sit squarely in the middle of that. Their 2.5 year project, funded by the California Strategic Growth Council, is entitled “Smoke, Air, Fire, Energy (SAFE) in Rural California: Energy and Air Quality Infrastructure for Climate-smart Communities.” Peter Alstone, Faculty Scientist at the Schatz Center, notes that the project was developed to lift up the particular strengths of each partner. The Karuk Tribe has a long history and practice of using fire on the landscape and understanding how good fire can be beneficial. The Blue Lake Rancheria is a regional leader in deploying advanced microgrids for the community. Researchers through the Schatz Center hold expertise on designing clean energy systems and doing analysis and design for air quality systems.

The past few weeks have brought the needs and visions of this project uncomfortably close to home. As Peter expresses it, “we don’t want to see what’s happening right now [with the wildfires and smoke] continuing.” Instead, the project leads center the benefits of controlled, prescribed fires in Indigenous hands and the associated priority of keeping community members healthy from smoke. Additionally, during those good fires and wildfires alike, communities need resilient, locally-owned energy systems. Right now, just when people need air filtration the most, energy sometimes gets turned off. This research project seeks to make a strong case for these prescribed fires, air quality, and resilient energy being priorities at all levels and types of government. Peter calls the SAFE project a “call to action that’s backed up with indigenous knowledge practice and belief systems and Western science.” 

And soon, the SAFE project team will be connecting with local communities! The project kicks off this fall and will be ramping up for community engagement in early summer 2021. They intend to be closely engaged during the next fire season. The project’s goals include developing plans that are actionable for local communities, identifying sources of funding for carrying out those plans, and understanding better how these air, fire, smoke and energy systems intersect in lived reality.