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September 14, 2020

The Southwest CASC researcher Beth Rose Middleton from the University of California, Davis, is featured in an NPR segment discussing cultural burning and its use in wildfire management.

Many tribal communities have a strong cultural connection to the land they live on and have a firsthand understanding of the impacts from climate change on these areas. They often rely on the natural resources around them for their well-being and have cultivated valuable adaptation actions, such as cultural burnings, to maintain them. Cultural burning is a form of understory-burning that has been used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years to promote ecosystem health by increasing water runoff into streams, creating habitats for plants and animals and recycling nutrients. However, up until recent shifts in management strategies, these traditional burnings were largely banned in the state of California due to the state’s regulations around fire management.

A recent NPR segment highlights the return of cultural burnings as California state and federal agencies collaborate with tribal agencies as a way to help reduce fire fuels (i.e. excess vegetation) and prevent wildfires. Southwest CASC researcher Beth Rose Middleton, who studies cultural burning as an adaptive management strategy, was interviewed and discussed the importance of continuing to involve tribal communities in the use of cultural burning saying, “I think it's really important that we don't think about traditional burning as what information can we learn from Native people and then exclude people and move on with non-Natives managing the land but the Native people are at the forefront and are leading.” By working with native communities, state and federal land managers and can increase ecosystem health and learn better ways to mitigate the effects of climate change together.

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