Above shows a controlled burn at UCSB, though this year's will be at the North Campus Open Space, formerly Ocean Meadows Golf Course. | Credit: Courtesy

Sometime this September, members of several Chumash groups will oversee a one-day cultural burn at UC Santa Barbara, reigniting a culturally significant and ancient Indigenous land-management practice after a 230-year hiatus.

Chumash tribes had long used controlled burns to revitalize the soil for native species to germinate and reduce the accumulation of dry fuels. This traditional land management technique shaped the California landscape for thousands of years, increasing the germination and growth of culturally important plants and animals until it was banned in 1792. Today, the practice is starting to make a resurgence in California with the support of the fire departments, academics, and science, leading to traditional ecological knowledge becoming more prevalent.

In 2018, staff at UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration coordinated with area Chumash tribal members and planted native bulbs, wildflowers, and purple needle grass in the North Campus Open Space. These perennials are established enough now to practice a controlled burn. Lisa Stratton, director of the Cheadle Center, explained that the outcome of this fire will be monitored and studied, with the hope that the fire will manage the build-up of flammable thatch and nonnative species that dominate the land. The sight of more native wildflowers painted over this area would be an indicator of the success of the efforts to revitalize the soil, she said.

The Cheadle Center has asked Chumash elder Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto to ignite the fire, bridging the cultural and scientific aspects of the event. The 14-acre burn will be monitored by Santa Barbara County Fire and the Cheadle Center and take place when the weather conditions are favorable.


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