With the recent destruction of the Santa Barbara Cave fire with over 4200 acres burning and 0% containment in the wake of trauma from wildfire destruction throughout the state of California, Californians are left to look to our past to move forward. For thousands of years tribes throughout the state used intentional burns to renew cultural resources, create habitats, and reduce the risk of larger wildfires. Under desperate circumstances, California lawmakers look to indiginous practices of light burning to prevent future fires.
For decades laws have suppressed using fire as a preventative solution for larger forest fires, now California is looking to local tribes to assist in the effort to prevent larger fires. Native people believe that the land is a renewing resource and believe that frequent small fires maintain oak tree health, clear prairie habitats, and prepares for drought tolerance. According to ‘Fire As Medicine’ from the Guardian “In 2015, Robbins, Lake, Tripp and other indigenous fire practitioners began collaborating on a strategy to bring back native practices. Together they authored a “healthy country plan”, laying out the ramifications of fire exclusion and a path to returning indigenous burning to Karuk, Hupa and Yurok land in order to renew and maintain cultural resources, create sustainable economic opportunity, and make the land more resilient in the face of the climate crisis. That work has grown into the Indigenous Peoples Burn Network.” The idea of this healthy country plan is to bring back the health of the land, which the Yurok believe cannot be had without the use of fire as medicine. Margo Robbins, Yurok tribe member and co-lead and advisor of the Indigenous People’s Burn Network stated, “When our land is healthy, and our spiritual and cultural connection to our land is healthy, then we, as a people, will be healthy again.” Thoughtful, intentional light fires could be a solution to the larger destructive fires.
Although it remains illegal to intentionally set fires without Fire Department oversight, lawmakers are learning to embrace tribal practices. Tribes do not believe that light-burning is a solution for the climate crisis, but they do believe that it is one part of the process. They believe that fire is medicine for the land and greater habitats, and lawmakers are beginning to see the benefits to the thousands of years of experience that they bring to protecting our land.