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Federal Emergency Projects

Willow Fire Archaeological Studies, San Bernardino National Forest, California

Type of Services:
Survey, evaluation, and site stabilization
Client and Contact Information:
San Bernardino National Forest
1824 S. Commercenter Circle
San Bernardino, CA 92408
Estimated Cost:

The SRI team at work in the Willow Fire Burn Area

In late August and early September of 1999, the massive Willow Fire, one of the worst in forest history, burned approximately 64,000 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF), Bureau of Land Management, and private lands north of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, in San Bernardino County. Within weeks, Statistical Research, Inc., was requested to provide archaeological assistance, responding to the needs of the Burn Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) program following the fire. SRI received the request for proposals on a Wednesday afternoon, submitted a proposal the next morning, was awarded the contract that afternoon, and had a crew in the field beginning work the following Saturday. This quick response allowed the BAER team to conduct its work with the full support of the SRI staff in the field. The BAER team was charged with stabilizing streambanks to prevent erosion and initiating revegetation, because the burned area is a major watershed for the Mojave River.

SRI stabilized and evaluated six prehistoric sites damaged during firefighting efforts or proposed for treatments to stabilize slopes. We also resurveyed and updated records for eight prehistoric sites in jeopardy from flooding, and evaluated two historical mine sites affected by roadwork. SRI worked closely with SBNF cultural resources staff to coordinate field activities with the BAER team members, including soil scientists, biologists, and hydrologists, to facilitate the emergency response while still protecting sensitive archaeological and historical resources. We developed streamlined field methods that enabled SBNF to rapidly consult with the SHPO. An emergency treatment plan was instituted that permitted fieldwork to be conducted with minimal delay so that BAER prescriptions could proceed with no adverse effects to cultural resources.

Statistical Research, Inc., deployed 10 archaeologists in the field for several weeks to complete all tasks before the winter rains began. The laboratory analysis was begun concurrently. Artifact and faunal studies were completed within two months. To manage the program, SRI assigned Michael Lerch as principal investigator, and his comprehensive understanding of regional archaeological issues provided the expertise to complete the project in a timely manner within the BAER parameters. Furthermore, his timely completion of preliminary reports made it possible for the SBNF and the BAER team to continue their restoration activities the following spring and comply with all federal historic-preservation statutes.

As part of a subsequent study, Statistical Research, Inc., surveyed an additional 1,350 acres within the burn area that was proposed for timber salvage, replanting, and other efforts at ecosystem rehabilitation. All archaeological and historical sites within that undertaking were identified and evaluated, and NRHP-eligible properties were avoided during project implementation. SRI worked closely with the Forest Service and Native Americans of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians (Serrano) to ensure that laws and regulations protecting cultural resources were followed.

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