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Prescribed Fire Renews Traditional Practice

Pinnacles National Monument

National Park News

Pinnacles National Monument conducted a small prescribed fire on Thursday, December 8th, as part of a joint fire science program research project to learn about the traditional use of fire in central California.

National Park Service fire management staff from the San Francisco Bay Area network completed the burn operations with cooperators from the Cal Fire San Benito-Monterey Unit, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, and the Bureau of Land Management. The burn was approximately two acres in size.

The burn was located on the east side of Pinnacles in an area rich in two culturally important plants – deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and white root sedge (Carex barbarae), both highly valued by California Indian tribes. Pinnacles has begun research for the purpose of restoring traditional land management techniques to these plant communities. The central research questions are, “How did the use of fire and other practices by California Indians influence the vegetation of central California, and what techniques best achieve cultural goals for plant use?”  The burn was ignited by a representative of the Amah Mutsun tribe.


The effects of burning deer grass will be compared with mechanical clipping to stimulate the growth of flower stalks which are used in the foundation of coiled baskets. Fire temperature was measured during the burn and silica particles known as phytoliths (or plant stones) will be collected from the ash to learn about the fire history of the site.  Fire scars in tree rings will also be studied at Quiroste Valley, a cultural preserve in Ano Nuevo State Park, 65 miles south of San Francisco. 

Additional research at Pinnacles National Monument will determine what techniques promote longer, straighter rhizomes in the white root sedge, characteristics which enhance their use for basket making.  


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