Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

Pre-European Fire in California Chaparral

Author:Jacob Bendix
Date: January 2002
Publication:In "Fire, Native Peoples and The Natural Landscape", Thomas R. Vale, editor, pp. 269-293, Island Press, Washington, DC

The vegetation of California offers richness in both structure and composition, but no type is more intimately tied to fire than chaparral. This relationship lends import to assertions that the burning activities of native peoples influenced the chaparral. However, several lines of evidence suggest that human impacts were marginal: ethnographic records are ambiguous; natural factors of lightning and vegetation flammability seem adequate to account for the known fire record; stratigraphic data suggest no change in fire history through the time period of initial European contact; and the richness of species composition implies spatial differences in fire return times, a pattern more consistent with varying environmental conditions that influence natural burning than regular human controls on ignitions. After a brief introduction, each of these four major points will be discussed in detail.


Jacob Bendix
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 01/23/2008 16:17:54