How wildfires have remade the Illilouette Creek Basin

September 07, 2023

Since the early 1970s, UC Berkeley researchers have used a region of land in Yosemite National Park to explore a pressing question: What happens when naturally occurring lightning fires are allowed to burn their course?

Earlier this summer, UC Berkeley researchers Brandon Collins and Alexis Bernal, BS ’16 Forestry and Natural Resources, invited KPIX meteorologist Darren Peck to the Illilouette Creek Basin, an approximately 60-square-mile area of land south of the iconic Yosemite Valley. Instead of navigating dense, wall-to-wall tree cover common in other parts of the Sierra Nevada, The Illilouette Basin is made up of patches of grassland, shrubland, and meadows filled with wildflowers.

Collins and Bernal say these conditions are possible because researchers and forest managers embraced a decades-long experiment of reintroducing “good fire.” Previous research led by Environmental Science, Policy, and Management professor Scott Stephens showed that allowing frequent fires to burn in the basin has helped boost plant and pollinator biodiversity, limit the severity of wildfires, and increase the amount of water available during periods of drought.

Learn more about research from the Illilouette Creek Basin, and what a “healthy” forest should look like, in the video below.