|An Innovative Approach
In a remote part of Northern California, the quiet rhythm of life is
occasionally broken by the sound of chain saws and wood chippers, but
this is no ordinary logging operation. It's part of an innovative program
where Maidu Native Americans are actively managing the land they've lived
on for centuries.
Lorena Gorbet is with the Roundhouse Council and Indian Education Center
in the small town of Greenville in Plumas County. "Our management
takes in all the plants, all the animals, all the trees. We consider them
our relations. So we take care of them so they take care of us,"
This is Maidu country, where Lorena helps lead an effort to encourage
locals and visitors alike to respect the land by preserving the evergreen,
oak, and maple forest and the wildlife within. To Lorena, these are more
than just run-of-the mill stands of trees. Says Lorena, "I see lots
more. I see plants that can be ate, plants that can be used for medicine.
Plants used in our basketry. Plants that are used spiritually."
Part of her outreach includes field trips to a meadow of bear grass,
which is turned into Maidu baskets among other things. "It's called
bear grass 'cause it's usually found where bears are, usually at over
4,000 feet. Up where you find the bears, so it's called 'bear grass',"
Bear grass is collected not only for its utility, but because thinning
it is a form of natural fire prevention. Warren Gorbet is Lorena's cousin.
He lives as his ancestors did, among the trees and vast valleys of Plumas
County. "You've heard about ladies talking to their plants and flowers
and how it makes them happy and healthy. That's the way we feel about
all the plants out here. Talking to plants is one way of nurturing them.
For example, if we want to rest beneath a tree, we ask permission from
that tree before going to that spot," says Warren.
Warren has been entrusted to clear his land of excess trees and vegetation.
Limbs and logs are recycled on site, turned back onto the land in the
form of wood chips and mulch. But Warren also fights fire with fire, carefully
thinning excess brush with low-burning flames.
Said Warren, "One of the things that we do when it's safer, generally
late fall, early winter, is we broadcast burn in this area. All this,
it's been burnt clear to the top of the ridge with a low fire. When we're
burning we burn in such a way that it doesn't burn down to mineral soil.
That takes away the insulation for one thing and destroys the little people
in the ground. The microorganisms and things that are near the surface
of the ground." It's hard to tell where the land has been cleared
by fire, but it's easy to see the results: new growth of acorn-bearing
oak and other plants that nurture wildlife and the Maidu themselves.
Beyond preserving the forest through Maidu management practices-with
plenty of help from modern equipment-Warren is also protecting this wetland,
a habitat for birds and other wildlife. If his great grandparents and
all those who came before him could see him now, they'd be proud of the
work that he and others like him have done. Says Warren, "Even though
they're gone from earth, they're not gone from our lives. They're still
here. I can imagine them sitting here, looking down on that clean river
and happy to have all that was here."