For thousands of years, California Indians used fire as a tool for managing natural resources. Throughout the state, Native peoples conducted cultural burns on a wide range of plants. Their fire regimes created diverse habitat mosaics that sustained meadows, coastal prairies, and grasslands. The careful application of fire increased fruit and seed production, caused new growth that was better suited for making baskets, and reduced the fuel load that could be burned by naturally occurring wildfires. But starting with the Spanish conquest and continuing today in the form of Forest Service and CalFire policies, fire suppression has drastically limited cultural burning. As a result, the forest has become incredibly dense and we are now facing a situation in the Sierra Nevada where drought is causing many trees to die. This massive tree mortality has brought the forest to a tipping point, where large scale wildfires threaten to alter the Sierra forests permanently. In this video, we explore how cultural burning is being practiced today and what lessons it holds for the future of the forest. We visit the area just south of Yosemite National Park where two tribes are working to bring fire back to the land, the North Fork Mono Tribe and the Cold Springs Rancheria of Mono Indians.
Co-produced by KCETLink Media Group and the Autry Museum, this six-part multimedia series and one-hour documentary special are presented in association with California Continued, a groundbreaking exhibition now on view at the Autry.