Native peoples’ relationship to the California chaparral

By:  and 
Edited by: Emma C. UnderwoodHugh D. SaffordNicole A. Molinari, and Jon E. Keeley



Ethnographic interviews and historical literature reviews provide evidence that for many tribes of California, chaparral plant communities were a rich source of food, medicines, and technologies and that they supplemented natural fires with deliberate burning of chaparral to maximize its ability to produce useful products. Many of the most important chaparral plant species used in the food and material culture have strong adaptations to fire. Particularly useful were many annual and perennial herbs, which proliferate after fire from seed and bulb banks, shrub resprouts that made superb cordage and basketry material, as well as animals that were more readily caught in postfire environments. The reasons for burning in chaparral are grouped into seven ecological categories, each relying on a known response to fire of the chaparral community. The authors posit that tribes employed intentional burning to maintain chaparral in different ages and size classes to meet diverse food and material needs, tracking the change in plant and animal abundance and diversity, and shifts in shrub architecture and habitat structure during the recovery of the chaparral community. Areas were burned in ways designed to create a mosaic of open grassland and recently burned, young and mature stands of chaparral with different combinations of species and densities. This management conferred on chaparral plant communities a degree of spatial, structural, successional, and biotic diversity that exceeded what would have been the case in the absence of human intervention. These impacts are still evident on contemporary landscapes.

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Native peoples’ relationship to the California chaparral
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-68303-4_4
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 43 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Title Valuing chaparral: Ecological, socio-economic, and management perspectives
First page 79
Last page 121
Country United States
State California
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