More Fires Can Prevent Fires
By Paige Francis
Wildfires have been raging across California. Many of these wildfires have been caused by lightning strikes and ironically, fire season is starting up. This means that California will be even more prone to wildfires because of the dry grounds and warm weather. Could these fires be prevented or put under control sooner? To control the fires, government officials are looking into an ancient Native American ceromony that they (gov. officials) banned years ago.
One morning in February, about 60 people gathered in the Sierra Nevada foothills to take part in a ceremony that has been banned for decades. Men and women from Native American tribes in Northern California stood in a circle with some university students and locals in the town of Mariposa. Many of the people wore bright yellow shirts made of flame-resistant material to protect them from the flames. For two days, this team of people will be lighting fires in the hills surrounding the area. Government officials, the people who initially banned these burnings, also happened to be in the crowd. However, with wildfires breaking records this year, officials said “tackling the fire problem will mean bringing back ‘good fire,’ much like California's tribes once did.” Ron Goode is the tribal chairman of the North Folk Mono and says that “We don't put fire on the ground and not know how it's going to turn out. That's what makes it cultural burning because we cultivate."
How did these controlled fires get banned in the first place? It seems like these would be a necessity to a state like California. Religious ceremonies, including cultural burnings, were banned when Native Americans were removed from their land by Westerners. Without these annual burnings, the landscape quickly became thick and dry-the, perfect food for a growing fire. The climate crisis and warming temperatures are also factors in these extreme fires. To solve this problem, tribal leaders and government officials are teaming up to protect the land. Hundreds of acres need to be carefully burned to reduce wildfire risk.
California has committed to reducing vegetation on half a million acres, along with the federal government. This is going to be a hard number to reach. Landscapes with a lot of bushes or dry land can be hard to perform controlled burns. These areas have a lot of “fuel” for a fire to quickly get out of control. Jonathan Long says, "Fire is a very wicked problem when you have years of suppression, because the longer you don't have fire in the system, the harder it is to put it back in," Long is an ecologist with the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station. "So what we're trying to do is get these footholds. The Karuk and Yurok tribes in Northern California have partnered with the Forest Service to ‘manage land for traditional values and wildfire management.’ By having these partnerships with the tribes, I think we can get that very frequent use of fire back in the system," Jonathan Long says.
If these controlled burns had never been banned, then maybe California’s fire seasons wouldn’t be so bad. Hopefully, with this new partnership between government officials and Native American tribes, we will start to see fewer fires over the years. Native Americans want to protect their land, and they should be allowed to do so. If government officials follow by their example, they can protect California as a whole.