Several months ago, Prescribed Fire Specialist Jared Childress had the pleasure to lead a small group of basket weavers from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR) to the pygmy redwoods at Bouverie Preserve. They were looking for California hazel (Corylus cornuta var. californica) and were pleased by the quality of the post-fire shoots — thin, straight pliable basketry shoots that typically regrow only 1-2 years after burning. We learned so much observing their collection activities. Generously, the FIGR weavers group gifted the Preserve this traditional basket from the collected hazel. We look forward to sharing the story and the basket with the school kids when they return to the trail in the fall.

A history of shaping California's ecosystems

The Native American relationship of promoting certain plants—for basketry, food, medicine, clothing and housing—has sculpted the California landscape we all know and love. The tribes tend, promote, weed, burn, prune, and even plant those “wild” species. They have a vested interest in abundance. This is what is meant by the term “tending the wild.” (For more information on this, see the excellent book “Tending the Wild,” by Kat Anderson, www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520280434/tending-the-wild and the PBS series www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbxLv9EEzs8).

That critical relationship of reciprocation is most likely the biggest shaper of coastal California’s ecosystems, just after the big two of geology and climate. In the case of California hazel, a deficit of human based fire (in the Coastal region, the lightning-based Fire Return Interval is roughly a hundred years), leads to it being shaded-out by late-succession trees (Douglas fir and Bay laurel) and having an increased exposure to pathogens. With controlled burning, weeding, and righteous pruning, hazel increases in numbers and productivity—so much so that legacy "hazel orchards” are obvious cultural sites to the trained eye.

While only a small one-day outing, the relationship ACR is forming with the local tribe is an integral piece in bringing good fire, with the original burners, back to the North Bay. From these small relationships, we hope to work more robustly with the tribe, not only with harvesting, but in that key exchange of “tending the wild.”

About California hazel (Corylus cornuta ssp. californica) 

California hazel (Corylus cornuta var. californica) is a native shrub that grows in central and northern California. It is slow growing and long-lived. It grows in an upright form to a height of 18 feet, with active growth during the spring and summer. Flowers are yellow and bloom in the early spring. Leaves are medium green and deciduous. It tends to grow at elevations from 0-7000 feet. (source: CNPS)