Restoring Fire Processes in the Klamath Mountains to Protect and Restore Critical Salmon Habitat

Year: 2022
Presenter/s: Will Harling
Symposium Session: 2022 - 08 Beyond Dam Removal: Ecological Restoration of the Klamath Basin
Topics covered: climate change, community involvement, fish-cutthroat, fish-salmon, risk and resilience, traditional ecological knowledge, uplands, and wildfire


The Western Klamath Mountains in far northern California have experienced megafires (wildfires over 100,000 acres in size) regularly since 1977. Large scale high severity wildfires, and importantly, the century of fire suppression/exclusion that preceded these fires, have significantly impacted threatened and endangered salmon habitat, pushing Spring Chinook and coho salmon populations closer to extinction. Fish habitat, and fish habitat restoration projects on key tributaries to the Klamath River have been affected both positively and negatively by episodic pulse disturbances related to current altered fire regimes. Extreme wildfires, coupled with post-fire debris flows, can now be predicted with more accuracy and can provide information to help stream restorationists better anticipate and accommodate for the eventuality of wildfire.
Indigenous fire knowledge regarding the use of fire as a critical tool for both specific resource and landscape scale fire management has greatly influenced fire management in the region, and is also being covered in national and international media. Indigenous fire knowledge has guided the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP), a diverse group of local, tribal, state, and federal partners, to address both instream and upslope restoration simultaneously in 70 anadromous tributaries to the Klamath River through process based restoration actions. Projects that include combined upslope and instream habitat restoration objectives, including helicopter wood loading and mechanical wood loading projects, and fuels treatments including prescribed fire, have been planned through WKRP in a holistic manner.

Tools for understanding both fire risk and opportunities for restoring fire process at the landscape scale from the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) to the wildlands, in an effort to both protect and enhance alluvial process and function, are being developed for the 1.2 million acre WKRP planning area. These include both the Potential Operational Delineations (PODs) model for analyzing the effectiveness of fire management strategies, as well as the REBURN State-and-Transition vegetation model for visualizing pre-contact vegetation and fire on fire interactions, and stress testing proposed treatment strategies with current and predicted environmental conditions. This presentation will equip fisheries biologists and watershed restorationists with the tools to address both fire risk and opportunity in the context of habitat restoration on their landscapes.