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Prescribed Fire at Pinnacles Renews Traditional Practice

Pinnacles National Monument is planning to conduct a small prescribed fire during the week after Thanksgiving as part of an interagency research project to learn about the traditional use of fire in central California. National Park Service Fire Management staff will complete the burn operations with cooperators from the Cal Fire San Benito-Monterey Unit, in consultation with the Amah Mutsan tribal band. The burn will be approximately two acres in size and is scheduled for Wednesday, November 30, but the date could change based on weather conditions. Smoke may be visible in Paicines and vicinity, or from trails within the Monument. Caution is advised if smoke is present, but no roads or trails will be closed.

The burn is located on the east side of Pinnacles in an area rich in two culturally important plants – deergrass (Mulenbergia rigens), and white root sedge (Carex barbarae), both highly valued by California Indian tribes. Pinnacles has initiated 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 effects of burning deergrass will be compared with mechanical clipping to stimulate the growth of flower stalks which are used in the foundation of coiled baskets. Fire temperature will be 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 two other sites -- the Quiroste Valley, a cultural preserve in Ano Nuevo State Park, 65 miles south of San Francisco, and another site yet to be determined. 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.

The native plant populations at Pinnacles National Monument will also be a propagation source for development of the Amah Mutsun Relearning Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. The Relearning Garden is part of a 55-acre area known as the California Native Gardens that is owned by the University and will provide plant material for research, cultural use and education. The Relearning Garden has begun a series of “Work and Learn Parties” which have included demonstrations of fire-making, pine needle basket-weaving and herbalism. Three events are planned at the Relearning Garden for 2012. Several research tours will also be offered next year at Pinnacles National Monument. For information about these educational opportunities contact:

To be notified when the burn date is confirmed for the upcoming prescribed fire at Pinnacles National Monument, contact: Denise Louie, Chief of Research and Resource Management at 831-389-4486 ext. 222 or by email.

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