The Yurok Tribe has used its newer land acquisitions to tackle present-day problems facing its citizens and the greater community—from food insecurity to climate change. In late 2020, the tribe bought a 40-acre parcel of agricultural land, with plans to use it to grow food, as the effects of the COVID-19 crisis have caused food shortages and economic havoc. The tribe is also leading an effort with state and conservation group partners to reintroduce the California condor to the Pacific Northwest, and is one of the primary forces behind undamming and restoring the Klamath River.
And with thousands of acres of forest under their care, the Yurok have joined the fight against climate change. Through California’s cap-and-trade market, the tribe has sold offsets for the carbon that’s sequestered by forests they sustainably manage. That helps the state meet its emissions reduction goals, while generating funding that the tribe has used to repatriate both land and cultural items.
“I would say the Yurok has really been one of the most strategic tribes in the Lower 48 to use both carbon finance and a lot of different mechanisms for recovering ancestral territory,” says Brian Shillinglaw, managing director of New Forests, Inc., a forestry company that has worked alongside the Yurok and other tribal governments across the U.S. to use the California carbon market to protect and enhance forests for their climate benefits.
In 2018, 7,000 acres along Ke’pel Creek went up for sale. New Forests bought the tract, intending to repatriate the 2,424 acres of Yurok ancestral land within it to the tribe. With technical support from Trust for Public Land, the Yurok Tribe applied for funding from the State of California to fund the acquisition. The tribe is on track to gain ownership of the land later this year.