The Yurok Tribe Is Using California’s Carbon Offset Program to Buy Back Its Land


In January, the Yurok Tribe in California bought a 40-acre farm. Located next to an elementary school and the tribe’s Head Start program, the farm will serve as an outdoor classroom for children as well as a source of organic produce for the tribe. This will not only help address the food insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also part of the tribe’s bid to reclaim its ancestral territory.

Land is important to Native nations for myriad reasons. Land enables the Yurok to maintain cultural traditions such as gathering traditional foods and practicing place-specific religious ceremonies. Like all sovereign entities, land defines the Yurok as a nation, both culturally and politically. Land offers economic development opportunities. It also bolsters climate resilience as the tribe restores wetlands, coastal prairies, and old-growth forests using traditional land management techniques.

In the past three and a half decades, the tribal land base has grown twentyfold, to a total of 100,000 acres, funded in large part by sequestering carbon. For this work, the United Nations Development Programme awarded the Yurok Tribe its Equator Prize, which recognizes efforts that reduce poverty through environmental justice work. It’s an exciting example of a small community—about 5,000 members are enrolled—building climate resiliency in a way that best fits their needs.

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