Burning for Acorns in Sequoia National Park: Native Peoples and the Park Service Working Together | KCET
Burning for Acorns in Sequoia National Park: Native Peoples and the Park Service Working Together
If you smell something burning this week as you visit Sequoia National Park, that might just be two centuries of cultural misunderstanding going up in smoke.
Fire crews from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are managing a controlled burn in Sequoia's Ash Mountain area, adjacent to the Park entrance on Route 198 east of Three Rivers. The 26-acre burn, which will continue in several sections for four or five days, is being conducted in part to attempt to knock down grassy fuels whose growth was stimulated by the Sierra Nevada's wet winter.
Controlled burns in the Parks are nothing new, but the Ash Mountain burn is a little different: it's happening with advice and assistance from the Parks' Indigenous neighbors, and reducing fuel load is just one of the objectives. The Ash Mountain burn is also intended to boost the health of oak trees in the area, and increase acorn crops in subsequent yields.
That's in line with the way Native peoples historically used fire to tend Sierra Nevada forests: as a way of making the forests healthier, and more hospitable to people and wildlife alike.
More from Tending the Wild
As we reported last year, cultural burns are still being conducted in places in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere in California by Native peoples seeking both to maintain their landscapes and preserve their cultural traditions. But Native cultural burning has mainly been obstructed, in California and across the West, but close to two centuries of American fire suppression. Almost as soon as American settlers took control of California, the state's new Legislature outlawed all forms of cultural burning under the impression that the Native practice damaged the landscape.
After about a century, Western scientists began to come around to Native peoples' ways of thinking, though usually without giving those Native peoples credit. Especially after the wildfires in Yellowstone National Park, in the 1980s, some agencies like the National Park Service recognized that putting out every forest fire at all costs caused significant long-term damage to the landscape.
California's forests, from Klamath conifer forests and coastal chaparral to oak savanna in the Sierra foothills, have thus been deprived of the fires set regularly for millennia to control overgrowth. As a result, the ecology of California's forests has shifted in unsustainable ways, and the state faces the threat of wildfires much larger than most that happened before 1840.
But despite the return of western-style controlled burning over the last generation, western land managers have been slow to appreciate Native land management expertise on how to manage fires for values other than fuel load reduction.
Over the last few years, however, the National Park Service has been paying closer heed to Native Traditional Ecological Knowledge on burning and other practices. In some cases, as at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, the agency has worked to build partnerships with both federally recognized tribes and those tribes with no federal recognition; a common-sense approach that's quite unusual among federal agencies.
Sequoia National Park's consultation with local Native peoples, and cooperation on planning and conducting the Ash Mountain burn, is welcome evidence that that new approach by NPS is bearing fruit.
At Ash Mountain, that fruit will probably be acorns.
The oak trees are an essential part of [the] landscape," says Jessie Russett, archaeologist and tribal liaison for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “If we take care of the oaks, they will take care of us.”
Here are five of the best ways to explore the past, present and future of Tejon Ranch.
Federal immigration authorities are expected to begin sweeps in Los Angeles and elsewhere Sunday to arrest undocumented immigrants named in court-ordered deportation warrants.
Following a screening of "Brian Banks," film subject/executive producer Brian Banks, actor Melanie Liburd and producer Amy Baer attended a Q&A hosted by Cinema Series host Pete Hammond.
Following a screening of "Framing John Delorean," producer Tamir Ardon and directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce attended a Q&A hosted by Cinema Series host Pete Hammond.
- 1 of 178
- next ›
Suppressed for over a century, indigenous cultural burning is still practiced today and holds important lessons for managing the threat of destructive wildfires.
E2: Keeping the River - How the Klamath River's Native Peoples Maintain Their Relationship With Salmon
The Yurok, Karuk, and Hupa peoples have maintained a close relationship with the Klamath River. They have secured traditional fishing rights and mobilized against the threats of dams and agriculture, setting an example for Native environmental rights.
Despite barriers to access, traditional gathering and basket weaving is still practiced across California as a new generation is rediscovering and preserving its cultural heritage.
The Chia Cafe Collective is working to revive Native food practices and raise awareness about the threats to native plants in Southern California.
Native herbalism has a long history and continues to be practiced today. This video explores a holistic approach to health and how the environment can inform healthy living.
- 1 of 2
- next ›