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Ancient Scorched Seeds and Indigenous Land Stewardship with Rob Cuthrell

Archaeologists can analyze charred seeds and other plant remains to learn about relationships between people and the natural world deep into the past. This talk will describe how a collaborative research project between Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, State Parks, and academic researchers utilized this type of information to explore how Indigenous peoples on the coast of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties used prescribed burning to steward local landscapes. Guided by these findings, Amah Mutsun Land Trust is working to revitalize Indigenous-based stewardship of open spaces today.

Resources

Learn about the Amah Mutsun

Learn about Amah Mutsun relationships with fire

Resources mentioned in the talk

About the Speaker

Rob Cuthrell is a researcher in archaeology and historical ecology who has studied relationships between Indigenous people and landscapes west of the Santa Cruz Mountains for over a decade. Currently, Rob works as a consultant for Amah Mutsun Land Trust managing a native plant propagation and restoration project on Año Nuevo Point.

This program is in support of the exhibit Seeds: Nature’s Artful Engineering, on view at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History through November 28.

The Impact of Social Science After Fire

An Opportunity for Fire Survivors to Have Their Voices Heard

From residents to researchers, our community has put in countless hours recovering from the CZU Lightning Complex fires of August 2020. In addition to physical work in the burn zone, social scientists are also working towards better understanding how individuals respond to fire emergencies.

Santa Cruz resident Amanda Stasiewicz, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Wildfire Management and Policy at San José State University currently researching diverse resident experiences with the wildfire events, interactions with fire and emergency professionals, and how to improve the wildfire evacuation and management in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

“In my opinion, the social aspect is the most important part of the ‘fire problem’ to study!” says Stasiewicz. “A lot of people would describe the fire problem as a ‘people problem.’ Much of our wildfire circumstances are a product of over 120 years of fire suppression, the removal of Indigenous populations and land stewardship practices, and forest management policies that were not focused on fire ecology. How societies approach land management questions in fire-prone landscapes directly impacts fire risk or management decisions.”

In Stasiewicz’s early research, she found it fascinating how different people living in the same landscape often have diverse approaches for adapting to their changing environment. “I knew that I wanted to find a way to be involved in that kind of work in the future, to share best practices and the kind of partnerships people were creating to tackle their particular fire problem,” says Stasiewicz.

As a social scientist, her current research aims to provide a platform for individuals’ voices to be heard through an anonymous, in-depth process. She’s recruiting for the CZU Wildfire Event study, where residents impacted by both the CZU and SCU fires can share their experiences and thoughts about how we can improve wildfire management in the future.

“Looking across both fires (CZU and SCU) will allow me to explore management decisions, wildfire impacts, and recovery processes across different vegetation types and social contexts. Exploring how to improve large wildfire management and impacts into the future is particularly timely given our recent high-activity wildfire seasons and how many people are now exposed to wildfire risk. The second phase in a couple months will include a survey to solicit additional feedback. Initial findings will be ready to be shared as early as late winter/early spring!” says Stasiewicz.

Photo by Jason Seeley.

Have you been personally impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex fires? Consider sharing your perspective! Dr. Stasiewicz conducts interviews which typically take 20-120 minutes and can occur in-person, via Zoom, or by phone. If you wish to hear more about the study or have any questions about participation, please contact:

Amanda Stasiewicz, Ph.D.
Email: amanda.stasiewicz@sjsu.edu
Phone: (208) 874-2800

Hiking With A Purpose: Post-fire community science with Josie Lesage

After fire, ecosystems can experience many changes. There can be increased risk of erosion and novel species can invade new areas, but fire can also reveal plants that have been waiting years for this natural disturbance to stimulate their seed banks — and there is still much to learn.

As the Santa Cruz community recovers from the impacts of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, we can look to other communities for guidance on where to go from here and how community scientists can help.

Join us for an online presentation from Josie Lesage of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and learn about their response to the Thomas Fire that burned through Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties in 2017-2018.

About the Mapping Recovery Project

The Mapping Recovery project leveraged the enthusiasm of over 100 volunteers who surveyed plants and erosion in the Thomas and Whittier fire scars. The project gathered over 5000 data points on the locations of plants in these fire scars, significantly expanding the known locations of many common invasive species, while also identifying populations of some rare or new invasive species. This data is being used to develop a map of priority intervention areas where restoration of native habitat is most needed and will be most beneficial to the ecosystem in the future.

About the Speaker

Josie Lesage works to understand, protect, and restore California habitats using ecological theory as a guide. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied long-term management and community change in California’s coastal prairies. As the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Applied Ecologist, she is interested in understanding how local ecosystems respond to disturbance and restoration intervention, and in building a community of volunteer scientists to steward our local habitats. She is currently involved in several projects related to invasive plant management and ecosystem recovery following fire. Her favorite plants are in the genus Castilleja


Interested in becoming a community scientist? Join us for an iNaturalist training in the Museum’s Garden Learning Center on September 11.

Fire and the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve with Dr. Jodi McGraw

Many of our native plants in the Santa Cruz Mountains are fire adapted, from the familiar coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) to the extremely rare Santa Cruz cypress (Hesperocyparis abramsiana) and Santa Cruz wallflower (Erysimum teretifolium). However, decades of fire suppression have greatly reduced the frequency of fires in our region. The Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve is a rare example of a location that has burned multiple times in just over a decade: in 2008 during the Martin Fire and again in 2020 during the CZU Lightning Complex fires.

Join Dr. Jodi McGraw for an exploration of this unique Santa Cruz sandhills habitat, which is home to the Santa Cruz cypress and Santa Cruz wallflower, and what we’ve learned since the 2008 Martin Fire.

Resources

About the Speaker

Dr. Jodi McGraw is an ecologist who works on conservation projects throughout central coastal California. For the past 28 years, she has been studying the Santa Cruz Sandhills—a unique ecosystem found only in central Santa Cruz County, which supports numerous endangered plants and animals. Her research and conservation management work has addressed how fire can be both a tool and a threat to persistence of the endangered plants, including Santa Cruz cypress and Santa Cruz wallflower, and the native biodiversity in the sandhills.


This program is part of the series CZU AND YOU: Resources for Recovery, Preparedness, and Ecological Understanding from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Santa Cruz Public Libraries | August 2021

A Striking August: Lightning and Wildfires with Chris Giesige

Lightning flashes through purple clouds over the horizon glowing orange.

In August 2020, Northern California was ignited by a series of 650 wildfires spurred by dry lightning from rare, massive summer thunderstorms. Today, all of California is experiencing drought conditions and fire season is well underway.

On the one year anniversary of the lightning storms wildfire researcher and lightning scientist Chris Giesige presented on the weather and climate conditions that made the August 2020 lightning events possible and shared a peek at what the future may hold for wildfires in California. Explore how we classify the weather and atmospheric conditions that create fire weather and behavior, why those conditions aided the events of last August, and explore wildfire in California more generally.

Resources

About the Speaker

Chris Giesige has studied fire science and conducted lightning research for over a decade. His research is focused on wildfires and seasonal and short term lightning development during the summer through fall months. Through the WestCats Group, he and his team are currently working on developing a new sensor network for better lightning forecasting for wildfire events.


This program is part of the series CZU AND YOU: Resources for Recovery, Preparedness, and Ecological Understanding from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Santa Cruz Public Libraries | August 2021

Collections Close-Up: Preserving Cultural History After Fire with California State Parks

Many had to evacuate the Santa Cruz Mountains during the CZU Lightning Complex fires of August, 2020, including museums, visitor centers, and cultural heritage sites managed by California State Parks. Jenny Daly, museum curator for the Santa Cruz District of California State Parks, was part of a team that worked quickly to save artifacts from threatened State Parks, including Big Basin, Año Nuevo, and Wilder Ranch.

During this online event, learn about the immediate steps taken by State Parks to save our cultural history and the ongoing process of caring for objects impacted by the fires. Kathleen Aston, Collections Manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, will also share how the Museum approaches natural disasters and collections, from Loma Prieta to ongoing efforts with the CZU Lightning Complex.

Photo of Mark Hylkema by Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group.

About the Speaker

Jenny Daly, Museum Curator I for the California State Parks in the Santa Cruz District, grew up in Santa Cruz and is fortunate to live and work in her hometown. After transferring to UC Berkeley from Cabrillo College, Jenny received a double BA in Near Eastern Studies and Theater, Performance, and Dance Studies. The most valuable part of her time at Berkeley was the internship she had working with the Registrar at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology where she became hooked on the idea of a career working in museums. Jenny then received a Master’s in Museum Studies from John F. Kennedy University and has worked in collections management at various institutions since then, including at the California Academy of Sciences, the Cantor Arts Center, and the Getty Center. Jenny was very excited to start working for the State Parks as a curator because it meant she could combine her love of Parks with her expertise in museum collections management.

This program is part of the Museum’s Member exclusive Collections Close-Up series and our August series in partnership with Santa Cruz Public Libraries, CZU AND YOU: Resources for Recovery, Preparedness, and Ecological Understanding.

Amah Mutsun Fire Relationships

Fire is many things to the Amah Mutsun and other California Indian Tribes — it is sacred, it is a tool gifted by Creator, and it is a way to restore balance to Mother Earth. This presentation will share more about how the Amah Mutsun are using fire to restore landscapes and relationships in the Santa Cruz mountains and beyond.

About the Speakers

Lawrence Atencio is the Native Stewardship Corps Field Manager for the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.

Marcella Luna is an Amah Mutsun Tribal Member, Native Stewardship Corps member, and sits on the Amah Mutsun Tribal Council.

The Amah Mutsun Land Trust is an initiative of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, which is the vehicle by which the Amah Mutsun access, protect, and steward lands that are integral to their identity and culture. The AMLT returns the tribe to their ancestral lands and restores their role as environmental stewards.

RESOURCES

Learn about the Amah Mutsun
Amah Mutsun Land Trust website
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Website
Virtual Exhibit: First Peoples of California (curated with tribal input)

Upcoming events and volunteering
CZU AND YOU event series
CZU Lightning Complex and Community Science Project
Volunteering with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust

Learn about Amah Mutsun relationships with fire
Amah Mutsun Land Trust article: Revitalizing Indigenous Stewardship with Cultural Burning
Bay Nature article: Finding Signs of Recovery in Santa Cruz’z Redwood Forest
Bay Nature article: Rekindling the Old Ways

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is located in the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of Indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.


This program is part of the series CZU AND YOU: Resources for Recovery, Preparedness, and Ecological Understanding from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Santa Cruz Public Libraries | August 2021

Coast Redwoods and Fire with Zane Moore

The CZU Lightning Complex fires burned roughly 80% of the old growth redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains, notably including Big Basin, the largest contiguous stand of old growth redwoods south of Humboldt County. While it’s still unclear what the outcome of this fire complex will be, we can look to prior fires to see how the redwood trees might respond.

Join us as we discuss what is known about redwoods and fire, from historic fire intervals, to fire adaptations, to tree-level physiological and anatomical responses. We’ll also explore how severely trees were burned using ground and satellite measurements and what we may expect forest recovery to look like.

About the Speaker

Zane Moore is a doctoral student at UC Davis studying redwood development and genomics. He has studied redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 2010 with a focus on albino redwoods, large redwood clones, dendrochronology (tree ring science), and tall trees. Zane has also been a docent at Big Basin since 2012, engaging in science communication with the public about these fascinating trees.

This program is part of the CZU Lightning Complex and Community Science Project in partnership between the California Native Plant Society, the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

Rare Plants and Community Science in the CZU Burn Zone with Amy Patten

The area impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires hosts a slew of rare plants. As we enter spring, the season of new growth, botanists will be paying close attention to these rare plants, but they’re not the only ones. A “community scientist” is anyone who makes and shares observations in an effort to contribute to scientific understanding — and we hope you will help us bring community science to the burn zone.

During this online training with Amy Patten, Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Manager for the California Native Plant Society, you’ll learn how you can search for and document rare plants as a community science volunteer. We’ll go over some of the fascinating and beautiful rare plants you can see in the burn area, as well as online tools you can use for survey efforts as part of the CZU Lightning Complex and Community Science Project.

Limited space is also available for in-person trainings on March 27 and April 15.

About the Speaker

Amy Patten works in the Rare Plant Program at the California Native Plant Society’s state office where she manages the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt project, a community science project that documents rare plant populations throughout California. Amy lives in Santa Cruz and is passionate about protecting the plants and wildlife of the Central Coast.

New Perspectives on the Past Through Freshly Exposed Rocks

In this edition of Rock Record, the Geology Gents unearth a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires. 

By Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione (aka the Geology Gents)

To reconstruct Earth history, geologists rely on the rock record: the accumulated rocks that, through their accumulation and formation, are relics of ancient geologic processes spanning geologic history. Such rocks provide a spyglass with which to peer into geologic history. But our view through this spyglass is limited to rocks that are both exposed at the Earth’s surface and have survived the effects of erosion.

As geologists, we often rely on Earth processes to expose new rocks and provide us fresh glimpses into Earth’s history. Since exposing fresh rock requires a lot of energy, natural disasters or extreme natural events can expose clues to this history through fresh rock surfaces. Human activities, such as construction or mining, can also expose new geological wonders.

In this edition of Rock Record, we’ll go through a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into some freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Complex Fire.

Roadcuts

Roadcut in Maryland exposing large folds. Image credit: Joel Duff, Naturalis Historia

The construction of roads often requires the removal of large sections of rock, leaving sheer rock faces on the sides of the road. Some of the most famous rock outcrops are ones exposed in roadcuts and these unique locations are a frequent destination for college geology classes.

As undergraduates, the Gents (i.e. Gavin and Graham) explored roadcuts in the Northeastern US, and learned about tectonic motion through the faults and folds exposed in roadcuts (like the one in the image to the right), about metamorphic rocks via roadcuts in Maine, and about large deep-sea sediment avalanches (called turbidites) from roadcuts in upstate New York. Rocks exposed on the sides of roads can also be significant for geologist’s understanding of the sequence of events in an area.

For instance, a roadcut in Owens valley (see image below), settled a longstanding debate amongst geologists about whether the Bishop Tuff was deposited before or after the first glaciations in the area. The exposed rock showed the Bishop Tuff sitting on top of the Sherwin Till glacial deposit, meaning that the tuff must have been deposited after the till.

Roadcut in Owens valley showing the Bishop Tuff overlying the Sherwin Till. Original image taken by James St. John

Fire

Forest fires are, in many cases, an important natural event for the health of a forest because they clear the forest floor of brush and dead vegetation. Through this process, fires also expose large portions of rock that would otherwise not be visible. For this addition of Rock Record, the Gents explored some areas of the Santa Cruz mountains that have been burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires last August.

Taking Empire Grade North, areas of Cretaceous (145-66 million years before present) igneous and metamorphic rocks that were previously covered by vegetation are exposed in the burn zone of the recent fires.

Weather

Sometimes extreme weather events can expose new outcrops or geologic features. For instance, the Frijoles Fault of a previous Rock Record post, The Faults that Shape Santa Cruz, was hidden behind trees and shrubs until a powerful storm event in the 1970s drove enough coastal erosion to expose the fault in the sea cliffs. Even more recently, heavy rains can cause landslides on the steep topography of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur. Each of these landslides exposes new surfaces that allow geologists and geomorphologists to study what causes landslides and the ways that massive amounts of Earth can be rapidly moved down hillslopes.

The exposed Frijoles fault contact, which was long hidden behind trees and shrubs before it was revealed by a storm in the 1970s.

Meteorites 

Some rocks are truly out of this world! Rocks that formed beyond Earth and arrive on Earth are called meteorites. Most meteorites come from the asteroid belt, a ring of rocky debris that dwells between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while some meteorites come from Mars and the Moon. As any Earth dweller knows, meteorites are incredibly rare, but they are important samples of other celestial bodies and leftovers from planet formation that we can study in close detail here on Earth. So, a meteorite fall is an incredibly exciting event for planetary scientists and geologists, alike!

One of the most important meteorites ever to land on Earth was the Allende meteorite, which landed in 1969 near the town of Pueblito de Allende in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. The stone broke into pieces before it landed on Earth, but the collected chunks of this meteorite total >4,000 pounds with more pieces still found today! Because there was so much meteorite to go around, many scientists have studied it, and since the Allende meteorite is made of some of the most ancient material in our solar system it has provided an invaluable window into the earliest moments of our solar system just after the Sun formed!

What mysteries do you suppose are hiding all around you, covered by trees, houses, or soil?


Rock Record is a monthly blog featuring musings on the mineral world from Gavin Piccione and Graham Edwards.

Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione are PhD candidates in geochronology with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. They also host our monthly Rockin’ Pop-Ups as “The Geology Gents”.