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A natural career: Klamath Tribes members learn forest stewardship from Lomakatsi

Kiya, Jenae and Jenna-C Wilder awake each day before dawn.

By 7 a.m., the three sisters are out in the Klamath Reservation Forest with hard-hats on and equipment in tow, learning forestry restoration skills through practical, hands-on experience.

“Back at home we care about these same things, so it’s been really good to be out here and get this real experience learning about trees and how the density and health of a forest affects our ways of life,” said Jenae, 20.

Members of the Klamath Tribes, the sisters are immersing themselves in the forest as part of the Tribal Youth Ecological Forestry Training Program.

The six-week-long program is part of a large-scale forest restoration stewardship initiative on the Klamath Reservation Forest, and is a long-term, collaborative partnership with Ashland nonprofit Lomakatsi Restoration Project, the Klamath Tribes and the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

“The heart of this program is to help youth gain this experiential learning experience to eventually work and run the departments for their own tribes, to be able to stay connected with their ancestry and their land,” said Belinda Brown, Lomakatsi’s tribal partnerships manager.

On a day-trip to Ashland Thursday, four of the seven members of this year’s program — the Wilder sisters and Ahk-ta-na-hi Goodblanket — spent their afternoon near the White Rabbit Trail Head learning about fixed radius plots.

Led by Lomakatsi’s lead forester, Andy Lerch, the four participants worked together to count trees, measure tree diameters and log the species of trees within a one-tenth-of-an-acre-sized plot.

Joe Ochoa, Lomakatsi’s tribal restoration crew manager, said he feels it is important for youth to be spending their days outside, learning about the land around them.

“It’s very valuable to get youth out here to learn what is going on in our forests, and then to teach them how to manage them and restore it,” he said. “Too many kids are lost spending their days indoors, when they should be learning about the world out here — and, they can likely go on to use these skills in future careers.”

Participants in the Tribal Youth Ecological Forestry Training Program range from 18 to 24 years old, and work 10-hour days Monday through Thursdays, earning $12 per hour.

All participants are enrolled Klamath Tribal members, Klamath Tribal descendants or members of a federally recognized tribe.

“The central point of the program is really to stimulate interest in these natural-resource-focused careers, while getting to learn the skills needed for them and get paid for learning at a fairly young age,” Brown said.

The Wilder sisters each said they plan to use the skills they are learning in the program in future jobs, whether those jobs be in forest management, forestry operation of heavy equipment or something in between.

Goodblanket, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, said he is glad to be taking part in the program, as he wants to “inspire, help take care of Mother Earth and the people who live on it.”

“What we do now on our land we won’t always see right away, but it’ll change the way the forest is for future generations,” he said. “Learning these skills is a step toward future growth.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at mtheophil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Jenae Wilder, left, and Jenna-C Wilder, with the Klamath Youth Work Crew learn how to survey trees with the Lomakatsi Restoration Project near the White Rabbit Trail Head in Ashland on Thursday.