Washoe Tribe Scientists Discuss Using Traditional Knowledge to Mitigate Forest Fire Risk and Restore Tahoe’s Meeks Meadow
Conifers encroach on Meeks Meadow, sucking water and lowering the water table, making less moisture available to culturally important plants. Photo by Rhiana Jones.
The restoration project began in December 2020, with a grant of $ 380,000 from the California Tahoe Conservancy to the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Meeks Meadow is part of the Meeks Creek watershed on the western shore of Lake Tahoe, approximately 8 km south of Homewood Mountain Ski Resort, off Highway 89. The Washoe tribe managed the land of Meeks Meadow before the discovery of the Comstock vein in Virginia City. in 1859, one of the richest silver mines in American history. They migrated seasonally, living in the Carson Valley during the winter, and settled in Tahoe for the summer. There they hunted, fished, and gathered food and medicinal plants that grew in the prairie.
“So this has been happening for thousands and thousands of years,” said Rhiana Jones, acting director of Washoe’s environmental protection department, on the latest Living With Fire podcast. “And then after the Comstock era, they cut everything down for timber, and the meadow, I believe, was used for grazing cattle, so that completely changed the ecosystem, and the Washoes were driven out of Lake Tahoe. They weren’t allowed to continue their seasonal migration to and from Lake Tahoe for their summer camps, so they basically stopped managing the land.
On the podcast, Jones is joined by Helen Fillmore, a member of the Washoe Tribal Council. The two discuss the history of fire in Washoe ancestral lands and how fire was an integral part of the life of the Washoe people, being used for many applications including heat, protection, food preparation. , drying of materials and, above all, land management. According to Fillmore, studying the history of fire ecology helps shed light on the impact of the Washoe peoples’ forced removal and their practices on ecosystems.
“Fire is a disturbance, but it is a necessary disturbance,” Fillmore says. “Our picking practices are a disruption, but they are a necessary disruption. Our culinary practices are a disturbance, but a necessary disturbance to which these ecosystems have also adapted. So when you remove a disturbance, just like when you remove a predator at the top of the ecosystem, it totally changes that ecosystem and the health of that ecosystem. “
On the podcast, the two discuss how the project will use a combination of indigenous and modern land management practices to restore the prairie. The project will remove conifers that take water from native plants and serve as fuel for forest fires, implement a culturally controlled burn, restore native plants, and then monitor the effectiveness of the project. In addition to the environmental benefits of improving wildlife habitat, reducing the risk of forest fires, and improving resilience to drought and flooding, the project offers the cultural benefits of supporting tribal management. ancestral lands and transfer traditional ecological knowledge to future generations.