CNH: Indigenous Fire Regimes, Land-Use Ecology, and Contemporary Livelihoods in Northern California

Project: Research project

Project Details


One of the longest standing and most sweeping effects of humans on natural systems in fire-prone areas has likely been intentional wildfire: people burning natural grasslands and woodlands on purpose. Within North America, intentional wildfire has almost certainly been widespread for over 5,000 years in what is now California, and may have changed the ecology and driven the evolution of species in woodlands in ways that in turn affect the ability of people to obtain natural resources. This project will measure direct effects of indigenous burning practices on woodlands and low-elevation, mixed forests in the Central Valley, Klamath Mountains, and Sierra Nevada, and indirect effects of these practices on the availability of wild foods and materials used by indigenous peoples that inhabit the woodlands. Researchers will quantify differences in plant species composition between areas burned by local groups of Native Americans and areas subject to fire suppression, and test effects of burning practices on the regeneration of oaks that dominate the woodlands and on infestation of their acorns by insects. Detailed studies of time required to harvest and process foods and materials such as stems for construction of household items will show whether burning does in fact improve resource availabilities for people. This work will take a scientific look at a potentially very important interplay between humans and nature that has been the subject of intensive debate but little quantitative study.

The project personnel will collaborate with tribal and other land managers to develop a better understanding of how to manage fire to achieve social goals and to restore and maintain natural systems. As currently managed, much of California's oak woodlands and low-elevation conifer forests ecosystems are under a threat of high-intensity, destructive wildfires. These ecosystems may in fact be adapted to frequent, low-intensity fires that burn off understory debris, increase species diversity, and reduce the threat of future wildfires. The project will disseminate findings to tribal and federal agencies.

Effective start/end date9/1/128/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $249,949.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.