When planning to renovate her property, Paradise resident Alison Denofrio wondered what species of plants they would keep in their yard.
“I don’t want to just go to a nursery and do what I think is beautiful,” Danofrio said. “I want nature to return; I want it to be healthy.”
So Allison and her husband, Michael Denofrio, attended a native seed workshop organized by the Campfire Restoration Project in Paradise on Sunday that focused on the traditional ecological practices of seed collecting, planting and caring for thousands of years by natives.
Ali Meders-Knight is a master traditional ecological knowledge practitioner and teaches the workshop with botanist Rafael Digenova.
The workshop was taught on the grounds that European-American behavior over the past 180 years has damaged ecosystems in California through land and forest mismanagement; introduction of non-native species; and by preventing Native-Americans from living and caring for their native land.
Denofrio, referring to the Camp Fire, said, “One of the things the Europeans did was to stop the burning on a regular basis, so it’s completely tied to how terrible this fire was.”
Fuel accumulation is one of the frequently cited factors for the severity of the 2018 fires. Another contribution is the prevalence of non-native species that are not adapted to resist fire, in contrast to how native ones are.
Meaders-Knight said that non-native species that were once standard practice to plant; Species such as Scotch, French and Spanish broom are widespread in the valley. They grow rapidly, take over the ecology, are highly competitive, and are toxic to fire.
“When you’re driving through Paradise, all the burn marks from the property that people haven’t managed are just full of Scotch broom,” Meaders-Knight said. “You have nine to seven years to change and fix things within your woodlands or urban interface, or you are back again. We are back on fire.”
DiGenova said nearly all native valley oak trees in California have been removed for agriculture; Especially in the Chico region for the rice and almond groves fields. Meaders-Knight said that those removing oak trees once supported the many small plants and animals that grow below.
“When you take valley oak, you also take out homes for all these little plants that have given so much life to butterflies and insects and everything we want here,” Meaders-Knight said.
The species that traditional ecology practitioners say are helpful to the ecosystem are oak species, gray pine, willow, white alder, juniper berry, elderberry and pipe vine. Workshop attendees learned how to plant them.
Geneva Sorensen is director of the Campfire Restoration Project and partnered with the Chico Traditional Ecological Knowledge Stewardship Program on this workshop.
“It seems like traditional ecological wisdom is the core; the fundamental building block of the restoration of anything because so much is based on the relationships between the natural world around you,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen said he hopes such workshops help to reconnect and re-strengthen people’s relationships with the natural world.
“Indigenous people here had deep ties,” Sorensen said. “They really knew their role and responsibility with the environment, and a lot of us white people have lost that.”
Danofrio, who visited the workshop, said she accepted her European origins and history; And she wants to use what she’s learned to bring back some native plants, animals, and insects.
“We all have to weave ourselves together to create something whole, and mend these gaps that are so painful.” Danofrio said. “I can’t do anything to change that, but at this point all we have to do is spread the word.”