Cultural Burn at UCSB’s North Campus Open Space Scheduled for September

August 28, 2023

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Lyz Bantilan, Public Information Officer, Santa Barbara County APCD, (805) 979-8283
Scott Safechuck, Public Information Officer, Santa Barbara County Fire, (805) 681-5531
Lisa Stratton, UCSB Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, (805) 450-1558, [email protected]
Marianne Parra, Chumash representative, (805) 824-2497, [email protected]



Cultural Burn at UCSB’s North Campus Open Space Scheduled for September
The event will revive the ancient tradition of cultural burning to a restored native grassland

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – Indigenous burning practices will return to coastal Southern California this fall. Members from multiple bands of the Chumash have scheduled a one-day burn at UC Santa Barbara’s North Campus Open Space for September, a time of year when cultural burns were traditionally practiced. The event will take place in conjunction with Santa Barbara County Fire and UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration.

The burn will restore traditional practices that enhance the biodiversity of native grasslands and reduce the risk of unintentional fire by reducing dried thatch. It will also help the community reconnect to the land, plants, and wildlife by learning about the long history of indigenous burning and the value of burning as a land management tool in the face of climate change.

Approximately 14 acres of restored native perennial grassland will be burned on a permissive burn day. The burn will be ignited in several small plots, each of which could burn for 20-30 minutes. Staff at the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District have reviewed the Smoke Management Plan and provided conditions to minimize smoke impacts. The burn will be conducted under the most favorable meteorological conditions to direct smoke away from population centers.

The Chumash and other Indigenous Californians used fire regularly as a tool to manage vegetation across the state for many thousands of years, until the Spanish governor banned the practice in 1793. In addition to the cultural relationship that the Chumash have with burning, fire was also used to achieve diverse goals in different landscapes. Burning increases the germination and growth of culturally important plants and animals and reduces the build-up of dry fuels. The practice also enhances access to plant and animal resources such as redmaids, chia, edible bulbs, insects, small mammals and woody stems useful for constructing nets, baskets and animals’ homes.

Cheadle Center staff have planted native bulbs and wildflowers at the North Campus Open Space following the seeding of native purple needle grass in 2017 and 2018. These culturally important, beautiful, and diverse species will be better able to grow through bringing back the practice of regular, light fires managed in conjunction with those whose ancestors managed the land successfully for thousands of years. Mowing can reduce the buildup of dried thatch, but a light cultural burn has the potential to eliminate the thatch from invasive grasses, trigger growth by the native bunch grasses, stimulate germination of the native wildflowers, and, most importantly, provide an opportunity for local Chumash representatives to re-ignite these practices on the coast of Santa Barbara after a 230-year hiatus.

There is a spiritual component of burning related to relationships with the place and with each other. There is also a cleansing component to these practices. The burning process can build relationships between people and the land, and this return of cultural fire can be a tool for uniting us in growing our relationships to the land. The descriptions of California’s diversity, bounty, and the ease of travel through open woodlands by the first western explorers provides testimony to the value of this and other indigenous land and plant management practices (Kat Anderson). The uncontrolled wildfires, spread of invasive plants, and exacerbating effects of climate change are challenges we face now, which are due, in part, to eliminating traditional burning practices more than 230 years ago.

This burn is planned and coordinated by the Santa Barbara County Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD), San Luis Obispo County APCD, San Joaquin Valley APCD, Ventura County APCD, and the California Air Resources Board to minimize impacts on air quality on surrounding communities. The burn depends on weather and air quality conditions favorable to smoke dispersion. If the conditions are not within prescription, the burn will be rescheduled.

If you smell smoke, take precautions and use common sense to reduce any harmful health effects by limiting outdoor activities. Avoid strenuous outdoor activity and remain indoors as much as possible when you can smell smoke or when it is visible in your area. These precautions are especially important for children, older adults and those with heart and lung conditions. If you are sensitive to smoke, consider temporarily relocating and closing all doors and windows on the day of the burn. Symptoms of smoke exposure can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest tightness or pain, nausea and unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.


For more information regarding the county’s air quality, visit

To view a statewide prescribed burn map and other features, visit the Prescribed Fire Information Reporting System (PFIRS) website: