14 Aug 2009, 3:45pm
Saving Forests The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Overgrown Ohlone Garden Aflame

Much media attention is focused today on the Lockheed Fire [here] burning in the coastal hills north of Santa Cruz. The last report I have seen was 4,170 acres, 5 percent contained, 2,400 people evacuated, and 250 residences threatened.

The Lockheed Fire got its name from the Lockheed Martin top-security rocket science facility/campus on Empire Grade Road, which may be overrun if the winds shift. There is some irony in all that.

Among the 1,400 news stories (flagged by a Google search just now) on the Lockheed Fire was this one from the San Jose Mercury:

2004 Cal Fire report called area near Lockheed county’s worst fire hazard

By Genevieve Bookwalter, MercuryNews.com, 08/14/2009 [here]

SANTA CRUZ — In 2004, a Cal Fire report called land where the Lockheed Fire appears to have started the worst wildfire hazard in Santa Cruz County.

In February, North Coast residents at a community meeting circled the property, near Lockheed Martin’s Santa Cruz Mountains campus near the end of Empire Grade Road, on a map as one of their top wildfire concerns, said Ron Christy, president of the Rural Bonny Doon Association.

Now, instead of using that information to apply for brush-clearing grants and justify fire-prevention efforts, firefighters and nearby residents are responding to a dire prediction come true. …

One fascinating paragraph from that story:

At Big Basin Redwoods State Park, interpreter Susan Blake said the Ohlone Indians once set their own burns as a way of rejuvenating the land, and recent efforts to prevent forest fires have allowed it to become unnaturally overgrown.

“History shows there is a lot of natural burns by Ohlone that used to cultivate the area,” Blake said. “What we have now is an overgrown garden.” …

Meanwhile Big Name “fire ecologists” are shooting sparks about “natural fire regimes” and “fire adapted ecosystems”. Susan Blake is bullseye correct, however, and the Big Names are missing the mark.

From the Wikipedia [here]:

The Ohlone people, also known as the Costanoan, are the indigenous people of Northern California who occupied the areas around San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay, and the lower Salinas Valley when the Spanish arrived in the late-18th century. …

The Ohlone inhabited fixed village locations, moving temporarily to gather seasonal foodstuffs like acorns and berries. The Ohlone people lived in Northern California from the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula down to Big Sur in the south, and from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Diablo Range in the east. Their vast region included the San Francisco Peninsula, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey Bay area, as well as present-day Alameda County, Contra Costa County and Salinas Valley. Prior to Spanish contact, the Ohlone formed a complex association of approximately 50 different “nations or tribes” with about 50 to 500 members each, with an average of 200. Over 50 distinct Ohlone tribes and villages have been recorded. …

The Ohlone subsisted mainly as hunter-gatherers and in some ways harvesters. “A rough husbandry of the land was practiced, mainly by annually setting of fires to burn-off the old growth in order to get a better yield of seeds – or so the Ohlone told early explorers in San Mateo County.” Their staple diet consisted of crushed acorns, nuts, grass seeds, and berries, although other vegetation, hunted and trapped game, fish and seafood (including mussels and abalone from the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean), were also important to their diet. These food sources were abundant in earlier times and maintained by careful work (and spiritual respect), and through some active management of all the natural resources at hand.

Cited as sources for that information are:

Brown, Alan K. 1974. Indians of San Mateo County, in La Peninsula:Journal of the San Mateo County Historical Association, Vol. XVII No. 4, Winter 1973-1974.

Levy, Richard. 1978. “Costanoan” in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California), pp. 485-495. William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-004578-9/0160045754.

Stanger, Frank M. and Alan K. Brown. 1969. Who Discovered the Golden Gate?: The Explorers’ Own Accounts. San Mateo County Historical Association.

Bean, Lowell John and Lawton, Harry. 1976. “Some Explanations for the Rise of Cultural Complexity in Native California with Comments on Proto-Agriculture and Agriculture.” in Native Californians: A Theoretical Retrospective.

Bean, Lowell John, ed. 1994. The Ohlone: Past and Present Native Americans of the San Francisco Bay Region. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press Publication. ISBN 0-87919-129-5. Includes Leventhal et al., Ohlone Back from Extinction.

Teixeira, Lauren. 1997. The Costanoan/Ohlone Indians of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area, A Research Guide. Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press Publication. ISBN 0-87919-141-4.

Susan Blake’s interpretation is thus based on extensive research and scholarship. To extend her remarks somewhat, the Ohlone burned their territories every year to enhance food gathering, hunting, provision of firewood, and to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fire, the occurrence of which would have severely hampered their survival.

After the Ohlone were eliminated from their ancestral territory by disease, conquistadors, friars, and other invasive species, the annual tending of their garden homeland with anthropogenic fire ceased. The grassy swards and oak savannas became choked with knobcone pine, manzanita, and other chaparral plants. The current residents have not tended the Ohlone garden, and a series of catastrophic fires fueled by the weeds have threatened their very lives.

It’s not rocket science (note the clever and amusing use of ironic allusion by yours truly).

Meanwhile, the La Brea Fire [here] on the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County has exploded to over 70,000 acres and is 10% contained, meaning it will get a lot bigger. The La Brea Fire is the third megafire in three years to rage across the Los Padres NF. The Zaca Fire (2007) burned 240,000 acres, cost more than $120 million in direct fire suppression expenses, and was the most expensive fire in California history. The Basin/Indians Fire (2008) burned 244,000 acres and cost $122 million, breaking the Zaca Fire acreage and suppression outlay records.

All of these were on ancient Ohlone territory, or Chumash territory. The Chumash people also burned extensively for the exact same reasons that the Ohlone did. Both groups likely brought anthropogenic fire practices with them when they first occupied those territories over 10,000 years ago!!!

The not-rocket-science technology of anthropogenic fire, tending the landscape, and living in a garden is traditional knowledge of incredible vintage. Everybody has always known that without careful tending, fuels will build up and the landscape will catch fire in holocausts that will wipe out whole communities as well as their watersheds and food chains, upon which human survival depends. Everybody, that is, except for modern “fire ecologists”, public land management agencies, rocket scientists, and other seriously uneducated and disconnected people.

The bottom line is that major fire disasters in California, and elsewhere, are predictable and preventable through common sense stewardship of the land. That common sense is of great vintage. We need not reinvent that wheel; we need only apply what we know, what has always been known, and tend our collective garden.

Tragedy can be averted. Common sense traditional stewardship is the solution.

14 Aug 2009, 6:10pm
by Mike


The Media is wilderness crazy. Latest from the AP, carried all over the country:

California declares emergency as wildfires spread

By BROOKE DONALD - Associated Press Writer

… In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Lockheed Fire has blackened 6.5 square miles of remote wilderness and prompted mandatory evacuations of the mountain communities of Swanton and Bonny Doon, which have about 2,400 residents and several wineries. …

Remote wilderness???????? The population of Santa Cruz County is 253,137. To the immediate north of the Lockheed Fire is San Francisco County, population 808,976. The fire is bearing down on more than 1,000 homes and buildings. Reportedly (not officially) 11 have been destroyed already.

Hello, Mr. or Ms. Donald. Santa Cruz is NOT a remote wilderness. The exact location of the fire has been inhabited by human beings continuously for at least 13,500 years!!!!!!

The Dinglefritz Media is one the Biggest Stumbling Blocks to Education in America today. It is a Cesspool of Glaring Stupidity. Every newspaper editor in the Nation who printed this Pile of Garbage should be forced to wear a dunce cap for the remainder of his or her life. Mr. or Ms. Donald should be shipped back to the Third Grade until they Catch a Flipping Clue.

14 Aug 2009, 7:13pm
by Larry H.


“Remote wilderness” is a term they use to describe an area farther than 10 miles away from a Starbucks and a Subway. This fire is about 12 miles away from those .

However, isn’t it the media’s job to hype and over-dramatize things while keeping their required political slant?

14 Aug 2009, 8:09pm
by Mike


You mean like circus clowns? I question whether journalism schools and clown colleges are the selfsame institutions, but you could be right. All signs point to it.

14 Aug 2009, 9:15pm
by Capt. Mike


Good article Mike. My last assignment with CDF/Cal Fire was doing time at the Ben Lomond Youth Conservation Camp on Empire Grade just above the secretive Lockheed plant.

Of course the camp was well defended but if you walked off the perimeter you could not make it 5 feet into the “forest” which was literally entwined with 50 to 100 year old manzanita and downed vegetation.

There are some cleaner plots between the Lockheed plant and Big Basin but not a many. Big Basin Redwoods State Park on the other hand is devoid of thick underbrush, because as you know nothing (much) grows under a redwood.

The coastal redwoods in Big Basin of course are among the few final stands of virgin redwoods on the north Santa Cruz and San Mateo coast.

What’s found below my old camp and the area surrounding the Lockhheed plant is the direct result of old growth logging and irresponsible local government stewardship, in many areas.

The Lockheed fire is threatening to touch some stands within the park. Ironically once it hits the virgin redwood stands the fire will slow.

The simplest fires I ever witnessed were fires in Big Basin in the old growth, the fire acts as a vacuum cleaner sucking up what doesn’t belong on the forest floor, bumps against the giants, indeed strengthening them and moves along.

Nature at her best.

14 Aug 2009, 10:18pm
by Forester Mike


Thank you, Capt. Mike, who btw has the best firefighter blog in the Blogosphere [here].

Inquiring minds wish to know how Lockheed Martin can invest umpteen billion dollars in their “secret” facility, and not give hoot in a holler about the fuels in the landscape surrounding it. Is the Big Money so easy to come by that they don’t give a rap if their facility burns to the ground? Did any of the rocket scientists notice the hazard outside their limos as their chauffeurs drove them to work every day? Is Lockheed Martin’s CEO too busy stashing $millions in his offshore bank accounts? Is the Board of Directors asleep at the wheel?

It’s clear that the peasants who live in the million dollar hovels in Bonny Doon noticed. They watched the Martin Fire (where did that name come from?) destroy 10 of those hovels last year.

At some point you might think the locals would have a meeting or something. Maybe raise their democratic voices to sound the alarm. Use some leverage to instigate some responsible care for their landscape.

But like the rest of the Nation, the disempowered just take it on the chin. Let the big dogs handle the problem; my favorite TV show is on. If the fire comes, it comes. Nothing I can do about it. If Lockheed Martin doesn’t care, why should I? What good would it do anyway?

We have become a nation of sheep being led to the slaughter. The ghosts of the Ohlones shake their heads in wonder. “Why did you kill us off and steal our land if you have no plan to take care of it, appreciate it, tend the garden?” And we are supposed to be the sophisticated and “evolved” society.

Inquiring minds wish to know, what is wrong with us?

15 Aug 2009, 11:03am
by Larry H.


Well, since Santa Cruz is the unchallenged ultra-liberal capital of the entire world, maybe we will see them educated about the true “nature” of our forests and their history. If I can change my brother’s and his wife’s opinion of active forest management (they live in the local area), I guess the liberals CAN open their minds to science and education.

It will be “interesting” to see how people’s opinions will change, or not change, by looking at comments in local newspapers about this fire.

Regarding redwood trees, they ARE considered to be “fire-dependent” species, due to their thick bark and stump-sprouting characteristics. They also will exhibit “epicormic budding” (if I’m saying and spelling it right), where new branches sprout off of burned tree trunks.

Next time I am at a buddy’s place in “the wilderness” of Zayante, I’ll take some pictures of the burned redwoods on his property. (His legendary nightclub/home burned down a few years ago from a woodstove fire.)

16 Aug 2009, 11:47pm
by Cheatos


Thanks for this discussion. I’m suspicious of Lockheed. Does anyone think that maybe they didn’t want to clear brush around their top-secret rocket facility because they wanted to keep it as hidden as possible? Now that GoogleEarth and Googlemaps are available, this place isn’t a secret anymore. Besides those pesky anti-nuke-type hippie-protesters would show up at the gate and make some trouble every now and then. Now with Obama in office, do you think Lockheed Missiles and Space (formerly a So. Cal. co. that was a Fire Dept. co. with one yellow fire truck) wants to cover its tracks? The fire could happen and they could burn up all that excess perchlorate and WMD-making material, so they could avoid having to get those expensive permits and at the same time keep the whole operation hush-hush. If Lockheed can make a sophisticated laser, one might think they would know how to start and stop a fire.

17 Aug 2009, 8:54am
by Mike


The assumption that Lockheed is a bastion of intelligence should be thoroughly disabused by this fire. They don’t know how to tie their own shoes. They can’t take care of their own property, in the face of obvious hazards.

Lockheed is not some super-smart conspiratorial think tank of geniuses. They are dumb asses. Just like the dumb asses at the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab, and at every astronomical observatory in the West. Dumb asses.

Sure, they want you to have the impression that they are brainiacs, but when predictable, preventable wildfires blow up in their faces, as they do all the time, you can be sure their brain power is mediocre and on the fritz. “Rocket scientists” my eye. They are obvious dumb asses.

Lockheed, like most of the welfare industrials that we taxpayers support, is all about symbolism over substance, false fronts, empty hype, and the Big Charade. Thank goodness we put their fire out for them, or they would be crispy critters today.

17 Aug 2009, 9:36am
by Mike


I’ll give Lockheed this much credit: they are good at bribing Congress. I am not good at that, and so bow to the masters of the art.

So much of American public policy is bribery generated. We do not reward merit; we reward hype and suitcases full of money. Dump trucks full of money.

Name the issue, and follow the money. Works every time. Global warming, health care, national defense, investment banking, etc. etc. Every issue of consequence, every manufactured crisis, comes down to hype and bribery.

America is a strong and successful nation because of individual effort made in the absence of government interference. To the extent that our government strives to interfere in everything from farming to automobile manufacturing, America is fading into mediocrity. Our ongoing crisis of catastrophic forest destruction by fire, insects, and un-stewardship is purely government-caused; a travesty of bloated bureaucratic incompetence at every level.

17 Aug 2009, 8:34pm
by Larry H.


Actually, I visited Mount Palomar and was very surprised at how well they took care of their dead trees. The white fir was reaching critical mass and didn’t belong there, anyway, so it was pretty much eradicated. The old growth bigcone Douglas fir was doing just fine, looking like dwarf old-growth redwoods.

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