Cache Creek Conservancy Cultural Burn (1/20/2020)

In January, I had the opportunity to participate in another cultural burning event: the Cache Creek Conservancy‘s second annual Indigenous Fire Workshop, held in their Tending and Gathering Garden. Drawn below was the gathering prior to walking down to the garden. The event was attended by an inspiring variety of community members, students and researchers, and members of a number of nearby tribes. The Conservancy is within the homeland of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, with whom they collaboratively manage the Tending and Gathering Garden and other riparian projects along Cache Creek.

The burning was focused on four plants: deergrass, western redbud, tule, and cattail. These are important plants for basketry and other cultural necessities, and fire ensures that they grow in the manner best suited for these uses. I mapped the locations of the plants burned, in the context of the entire Conservancy.

 

The first fires were started in the deergrass:

Patches of flames in deergrass:

This was so impressively a full community event! People of all ages were helping tend the fires, wandering between the burning patches and poking at fire with sticks.

Redbuds were cut to near their bases, the branches piled in cones above the stumps. This ensured that the bases and brush all burned well.

Tule and cattails were set alight, and their thick stands burned fiercely, sending flames high into the air. The long strips of leaves turned to ash and floating away on the smoke were quite dramatic. I was also struck by the individual plumes of smoke rising from each still-smoldering cattail head after the flames had passed. The twisting strips of char on the burned cattail stalks show the pattern of air movement as the flames rose around them.

A redbud that was burned nearly a year ago showed the straight branches and deep red color that are desirable for basketry. I also investigated a fungus happily growing on the burned stumps.

In a perfect demonstration of survival strategies during fire, one of the members of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Tribal Fire Department found a juvenile alligator lizard that had been curled up in the base of a bunch of deergrass that had just been burned. The moisture content at the base kept that spot cool enough that the lizard was unharmed by the fire.

CacheCreekGoodFire19_2020Jan20

 

Winters Fire (July 6-8, 2017)

Near the beginning of what is likely to be an intense fire season, the area north of Cold Canyon that has burned twice before over the past four years was in flames again.  A total of 2,269 acres burned north of Highway 128 near Winters over three days in early July:

WintersFire_2017Jul8_sm

This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:

threefiresmap3_2016sep12_sm

While fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, when the same area burns repeatedly with only short intervals between fires, seed banks are destroyed and trees that might have survived a single fire are unable to recover enough to withstand the next fire.  We still have a couple of months or more of hot dry weather, and plenty of extra fuel this year as a result of the wet winter.  I will be surprised if there are not more fires in this area this year.

AfterWintersFire2_2017Jul9_sm

Spawning Chinook in Putah Creek

Anadromous fish do not make their way into Cold Creek, but Cold Creek is a tributary to Putah Creek, which does have salmon and steelhead.  Water quality in Cold Creek (including impacts from fire) has a direct impact on water in Putah Creek and on the organisms that rely on Putah Creek.  Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) return to Putah Creek to spawn after spending several years in the ocean, and are dependent on cool, clear water free of contaminants for their survival.

coldcreekputahcreek

In November, I watched Chinook salmon traveling up Putah Creek in downtown Winters, just under the old railroad bridge.  I made some sketches onsite:

chinooksketchandphoto1_2016nov25

And then developed a more detailed depiction of the scene at home:

chinookinwinters_2016nov26_sm

Cold Fire Burns just North of Cold Canyon (8/3/2016)

Almost exactly one year from the start of the Wragg Fire, the Cold Fire burned the area just north of Cold Canyon.  It covered nearly the same area as the Monticello Fire did in 2014.  Three years now of annual fires in this area: what will 2017 bring?

threefiresmap3_2016sep12_sm

On the second day of the Cold Fire, I drove toward Winters to take a look at the smoky sky.  The setting sun was an unearthly pink.  While the smoke had not reached the country intersection where I made these drawings, the road was engulfed in smoke by the time reached the outskirts of Winters.

coldfiresmoke_2016aug3_sm

 

Wragg Fire Map (8/5/2015)

The Wragg Fire started just over the ridge to the west of Cold Canyon, rushing quickly over the hill and down into the canyon.  Once there, it remained in the canyon, generating winds that caused it to cycle within the canyon, according to Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve Manager.  This greatly increased the intensity of burning in the canyon.  The differences in fire intensity across the landscape burned will lead to interesting opportunities to compare rates and types of regrowth in the coming years.

wraggfiremap3_sm