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Karuk ecological fire management practices promote elk habitat in Northern California

Cite this dataset

Connor, Thomas et al. (2022). Karuk ecological fire management practices promote elk habitat in Northern California [Dataset]. Dryad.


After a century of fire suppression and accumulating fuel loads in North American forests, prescribed burns are increasingly used to prevent conditions leading to catastrophic megafire. There is widespread evidence that prescribed fire was used by Indigenous communities to manage natural and cultural resources tribes for thousands of years. Wildlife habitat is an example of an ecological response that was actively managed with prescribed burns by Indigenous American peoples and is an important factor in western U.S. forest management planning, restoration and climate resilience efforts. We analyzed the effects of modern prescribed burns informed by traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) on the predicted change in elk winter habitat in Karuk aboriginal territory in Northern California between 2013 and 2018 using species distribution and simultaneous autoregressive modeling techniques. Burn types most closely resembling Karuk traditional practices, specifically those incorporating multiple-year broadcast burns, had significant positive effects on elk winter habitat suitability. Conversely, concentrated burns focused solely on reducing fuel loads had significant negative effects on elk winter habitat suitability. However, areas where these fuel-reduction burns were combined with multiple years of broadcast burns featured the highest increases in habitat. Our results suggest that transitioning to prescribed burns that more closely follow Karuk TEK will promote elk habitat in the region. This would be best achieved through continuing to work closely with Indigenous representatives to plan and implement cultural fire prescriptions on a landscape-scale, a trend we posit would benefit environmental management efforts across the globe.


The methods used for collecting this dataset are described in detail in the associated manuscript. Some processing of environmetal rasters has been done to standardize projections and cell sizes. 

Usage notes

The "WildfiresCA_SP" ESRI shapefile can be read into R using the 'shapefile' function of the 'raster' package. The other (non .shp) files included with the "WildfiresCA_SP" data are accompanying files that allow the .shp file to be read and utilized. These include the .cpg, .dbf, .prj, .sbn, .sbx, .xml, and .shx files. 

The elk presence data and prescribed burn data needed to run the model exactly as described in the manuscript are not included in this open repository. They are available on request and approval of the Karuk Tribe. Please contact Emilio Tripp at for inquiries. 


California Big Game Management Program, Award: P1780108