Fire and Vegetation Change in the Yolla Bolly
by Susan Nolan
A recent backpack trip to the Yolla Bolly Wilderness gave an immersion in fire ecology. In Indian times Cedar Basin must have been frequently burned. Someone pointed out that Indians burned to manage vegetation, not for fire control, and that would certainly be true in Cedar Basin, a place that would have been used for summer gathering and hunting, not a place to live year round. (Both the Wailaki and the Wintun used that area.) The early ranchers who ran cattle up there continued the burning regime to keep pastures clear.
But as the young Forest Service gained traction it suppressed fire to preserve timber resources. Protected from their greatest natural enemy, trees began filling in the grassland. It was quite striking to me on this trip that so many of the trees are young, short and pointy-topped.
There are scattered old growth trees. Their progency crowd around them:
You can see this tree grew up without near neighbors by the dead lower branches remaining on the trunk—those would have been shed much earlier in shade. With more frequent fires, the little trees would have been killed off.
An interesting spot is Saunder’s Place, a small stand of old growth next to an unusual meadow, very near a creek, a natural campsite. Note size of red backpack. Looking south.
Looking north across the meadow from within the small grove, you can see dense young trees filling in:
I bet the Wintu had a name for Saunder’s Place too; it is definitely a place. And reading the forest, it looks like in their day this little grove stood by itself in a mostly open grassland.