As fires roar through their hills and forests, the Colville tribe once again watch their ‘life blood burn’ | North West
NESPELEM, Wash .– Lean and thirsty, a trade rider who twice broke his shoulders riding horses and racing, Ralph Moses is Nez Perce by blood and no stranger to fear.
He experienced a new kind of terror Monday night as he watched a forest fire surround his home. Started by lightning, moved by the wind, and fueled by grass and parchment trees, the fire roared across his 110-acre ranch, slamming into the house he has lived in since 1972.
“This is the scariest I have ever had,” said Moses.
Moses was lucky and his house did not burn down; across the street and just 100 yards from the road his niece’s house did.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said, examining the burnt skeleton of his trailer on Saturday. “All we could do was sit on the porch and cry. “
While only four homes were destroyed by the Chuweah Creek fire, the blaze – 34,694 acres (roughly 54 square miles) – burned down valuable woodlands, killed elk and deer that the tribe members depend on. for food and burnt traditional plant gathering grounds.
If it were a one-off event, the damage would be serious, but not catastrophic. As it stands, this is the third major fire on the 1.4 million acre Colville reserve in six years.
In 2015, 200,000 acres burned down. In 2020, 189,923 acres. And now, at the start of the 2021 fire season, an entire city has been evacuated as the flames turned the hills red.
“This isn’t the first fire we’ve seen,” Moses said. “But it’s scary when it’s your house. It’s a whole different story when it’s your house. And your family. “
In particular, last week’s fire will be a blow to the finances of the Colville Tribe, 20% of which comes from logging, said Colville Tribe President Andrew “Badger” Joseph Jr. which has an unemployment rate of nearly 10% and a median household income of $ 42,000, wood money is a big deal.
“We are a tribe of timber resources,” said Joseph, standing in his office on Friday above a burnt hill. “It burns the blood of our life.”
The tribe of around 10,000 members is still recovering financially from the devastating fires of 2015, which burned 20% of the reserve, including about a third of its commercial forests. These 2015 fires were started by a logging crew hired by the Moses Mountain tribe, Joseph said.
The full extent of the Chuweah Creek fire is not known and crews continued to fight the blaze on Saturday evening, focusing heavily on the eastern edge in an effort to “protect our woods” and the town of. Keller, Fire Tribe spokeswoman Kathy Moses said. .
“We have had several fires on the reserve in recent years,” she said. “And we lost a lot of wood because of those fires. “
The tribe will collect all the burnt wood they can, Joseph said. After the 2015 fires, for example, logging crews worked six days a week and filled more than 20,000 semi-trailers with timber.
But it will not make up for all the losses, especially in a year with record timber prices. Sales of timber and timber products help fund per capita payments from the tribe to tribal members, tribal programs and more.
With climate change contributing to more severe and frequent fire seasons, Joseph hopes the federal government will invest more money in firefighting and prevention efforts in the short and long term. He asked the lobbyist for the Colville Tribe in Washington, DC, to try and get Home Secretary Deb Haaland to visit the Colville Indian Reservation and see the “cost and loss” firsthand.
“She needs ammunition to make her claims,” he said.