UC Santa Barbara’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration conducted a controlled burn at UC Santa Barbara’s North Campus Open Space on Sept. 28 in collaboration with the Chumash people and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The collaboration marks history as the first controlled burn with the Chumash people.
The burn was intended to eliminate dried thatch — an organic layer of living and dead stems, shoots and roots — and restore traditional Chumash practices of enhancing the biodiversity of native grasslands, according to a press release from the Cheadle Center.
“The Chumash and other Indigenous Californians used fire regularly as a tool to manage vegetation across the state for many thousands of years, until the Spanish governor banned the practice in 1793,” the press release read. “Burning increases the germination and growth of culturally important plants and animals and reduces the build-up of dry fuels.”
In a statement to the Nexus, Director of Ecosystem Management at the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration Lisa Stratton said the Cheadle Center met with the Chumash multiple times over the past four months to discuss the “goals and values and roles they might play” in the burning.
“The Chumash Elder Ernestine lit the fire with a fire started with a hand drill. We are [integrating] the burn with establishing a number of native wildflower and bulb species that are valuable for the Chumash and going to involve them in this process,” Stratton said in the statement to the Nexus.
Stratton said the Cheadle Center conducts prescribed burns every few years on the Lagoon Island at the Campus Lagoon to burn off the non-native seedbank. The North Campus Open Space burn is different, with a much lighter and faster fire over a larger area.
The burn is planned and coordinated by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (ACPD), San Luis Obispo County ACPD, San Joaquin Valley ACPD, Ventura County ACPD and the California Air Resources Board to minimize air quality impact in surrounding areas.
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Oct. 5, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.