The California Natural Resources Agency is proud to unveil our new tribal affairs logo for our new Tribal Nature-Based Solutions programs and Native American Heritage month. Our State Parks team designed this logo to help elevate tribal affairs work at the Agency and stress the importance of protecting and respecting culturally important native species. The species depicted in the design – red abalone and white sage – are culturally important to many California Native American people and each species’ population is facing a rapid decline in nature. California Native American tribes have their specific connections to each specie, and it isn’t the intent of this blog to diminish or generalize the significance of the species to California Native American people. By highlighting these important species, we hope to create awareness of their ecological and cultural importance to encourage their respectful treatment. CNRA encourages anyone wishing to learn more about the cultural importance of these species to research and listen to the Native leaders, elders, and cultural practitioners advocating for the protection and respect of these species.
There are few species in the natural environment, save perhaps salmon, that are more closely associated with California Native American culture than red abalone (Haliotis rufescens). From what is now the border of California and Oregon, to what is now an international border with Mexico; most tribes have a relationship with abalone. In both historic and modern times, abalone is utilized by tribes for food, regalia, trade, and prayer. The hard, brilliantly colored shell of the abalone is carved into an infinite number of shapes and patterns and incorporated into ceremonial regalia, baskets, and other material culture items. But its importance is not solely aesthetic. California tribal ways of life are place-based – and as such, completely interwoven with their geography and natural resources.
Abalone is also part of a complex coastal ecosystem. As a bottom-dwelling herbivorous invertebrate, abalone rely on the health of their predominate food source, kelp, and an appropriate population “balance” with other species to create a rich, diverse, and productive ecosystem.
For several decades, conditions that allow for healthy, thriving abalone populations have eroded to the point where the species is now in decline. Changing ocean conditions due to both climate change and pollution, along with a decline in populations of kelp along the coastline – have all played a role in the decline of red abalone. In response, the state of California made the tough decision to completely closed the red abalone fishery in 2018, which is set to remain in effect through at least 2026.
To Learn More:
- Review the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP)
- Learn about the large-scale ecological impacts of the 2016 kelp forest die-off in the Marine Management News article: “Perfect Storm” Decimates Northern California Kelp Forests
What Can You Do?
- Get involved – support recovery and restoration efforts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) continues to work on a Red Abalone Fisheries Management Plan to ensure long-term sustainable management of red abalone. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is also working with partners on a Kelp Restoration and Management Plan. To help support the recovery, respect the harvest closure and report unlawful activity or violation to CDFW Enforcement, immediately through the toll-free CALTIP number 1 888 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258). Be thoughtful. You may notice more abalone shells washing up on beaches, especially after winter storms. This likely means populations are still in decline, and with the fishery closed, these may represent the only shells available to California Native American people. Be thoughtful and refrain from collecting wild abalone shells. If you need abalone, source them from a commercial aquaculture facility.
White sage (Salvia apiana) is a member of the Lamiaceae family, native to the coastal plains of what is now called Southern California and Baja California. It is an evergreen woody shrub with flowers of white to pale lavender, and its oils are a chemically complex mix of terpenoids, flavonoids, and other compounds – which together create a strong aroma when crushed or burned. Its properties are also known to serve as a decongestant, a remedy for colds and fevers, and range of other uses.
White sage is a significant cultural plant with important medicinal properties to the Tonvga, Kumeyaay, Chumash, Luiseño, Paipai, and many other tribal communities on both sides of the US-Mexico border. It is also currently under threat from over-harvesting.
Commercialization and “trend smudging” in pop culture appears now to be at an all-time high – and the practice of “wildcrafting” white sage to supply that increasingly popular practice now threatens the very existence of this unique plant. Commercial sage smudging is a form of cultural appropriation; the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. Tribes know best how to manage the tending and gathering of this plant in sustainable and resilient ways, as they have done for millennia. Sage is an important part of many of our local and regional ecosystems and it is important to be mindful about harvesting it outside of one’s own garden.
To Learn More
- Watch Saging the World, an award-winning documentary produced by Rose Ramirez, Deborah Small, and the California Native Plant Society. For more information and to find an upcoming screening, check out White Sage Protection | California Native Plant Society.
- Read Rose Ramirez and Deborah Small’s essay from the Spring 2020 issue of News from Native California on Rose Ramirez's Blog.
- Read essays from Native and non-Native authors in the California Native Plant Society’s Spring 2022 Vol. 5 No 3. Flora Magazine.
What Can You Do?
- Don’t participate in cultural appropriation. Refrain from “trend smudging” cleansing rituals that include sage, or wellness smudges, and the selling of sage.
- Don’t purchase “wildcrafted” or wild harvested white sage. If you need white sage, consider growing your own plants or sourcing from sustainable growers.
- Support Conservation. Support tribes and other organizations who have invested in the techniques and facilities to cultivate and restore white sage.