Science Speaks: Rethinking prescribed, cultural burning

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — North Fork Mono Tribe’s Ron Goode and UC Davis professor of Native American Studies Beth Rose Middleton Manning spoke about cultural burning on Thursday, May 13, during the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center Science Speaks series.

The pair detailed the importance of cultural burning through a webinar presentation as the summer season approaches after a dry winter in the basin. But the experts were careful to differentiate between prescribed burns, which are usually held by agencies such as Cal Fire, and cultural burning, which is historically practiced by indigenous peoples.

“We don’t really call it cultural burning,” Goode said. “That’s a new terminology. We’re restoring the cultural resources. It’s what we’ve been doing for a millennia.”

Goode explained that his tribe, along with many others, still rely on the land around them, and cultural burning is essential in keeping their resources healthy after they lose their functionality.

“When something has died, or [is] dying, then it needs to be restored.”

The practice of cultural burning involves restoring resources with intention, rather than burning a large area and never returning to it.

“We’re looking to restore the resource that is the one that needs to be there,” Goode said. “After our big pasture burn, the native grasses started coming back. Many folks come here to this land to gather and harvest because we are renewing it.”

Cultural burning is not a one time process, but involves monitoring the land over the course of six to eight years, which is the average time it takes for the land to rejuvenate back to its full potential.

Professor Beth Rose Middleton Manning then presented on her research and field experience with burns, and explained the importance of indigenous peoples in the process of cultural burning.

“Part of this work in cultural burning is recognizing traditional knowledge of the landscape stewardship and the importance of native lead restoration.”

UC Davis students, as well as the South West Adaptation Climate Center and Goode have been leading burns on the West Coast in hopes of seeing California policy eventually change on cultural burning in the future. One way is remembering to return to the land.

“You come back,” Manning said. “It’s not just coming in, like some approaches to prescribed fire; doing a burn and never returning. It’s a relationship to a place. You come in, you come back, you maintain.”

For more information on future events hosted by the UC Davis Research Center, visit their website at

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