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A Commitment to the Land

By Jamie Reno | Photography by Sergio Hernandez

The Ataxum (the People), now known as the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians, have lived in the Pauma Valley for thousands of years. Like their ancestors, they remain dedicated caretakers of this impressive and distinctive geography.

Officially established in 1893, the Pauma reservation today consists of nearly 6,000 acres. In addition, the tribe owns an agricultural conservation easement dedicated to community-shared agriculture and citrus orchards adjacent to the reservation.

The Band has also generously dedicated financial resources and personnel to sustainability, conservation, and preservation of its lands through organic citrus and avocado orchards, community-supported agriculture, as well as restoration of the Mission Reserve to its original state before the fires of the 1980s and 2007.

The steep, mountainous terrain of the Mission Reserve hosted large areas of Coulter pine, big-cone Douglas fir, white fir, incense cedar, black oak, and live oak (canyon and coast), with swaths of chaparral and brush. The fires of 1987 and 1989 devastated the pines, firs, and many oaks, and fueled a suffocating growth of chaparral and brush, compromising land filled with a forest of living trees.

Determined to replace the trees after the 1987 and 1989 fires, Pauma members planted 9,000 conifer seedlings and 5,000 Coulter pines over a 10-year period. Many of these seedlings reached heights of 12 to 14 feet. Tragically, all were lost in the 2007 Poomacha fire that destroyed 90 percent of the Mission Reserve.

A Commitment to the Land

A Commitment to the Land

Mission Reserve Crew

Mission Reserve Crew

Although that wildfire prompted more invasive plant growth, and drought has wreaked further damage, the Pauma Mountain Crew refuses to give up. Engaged in backbreaking labor in nearly inaccessible areas, they have cleared roads to manage fuel loads, constructed shaded fuel breaks, and prepared sites for new planting.

The crew spends hours scaling canyons and rocky inclines, reducing fuel loading through mastication, and implementing practices to protect air and water quality. There are small oases for wildlife with catch basins of water to nurture the return of flowers, plants, and seedlings.

The tribe has chosen tradition—responsibility for preserving the eco-system, clean air, fresh water, wildlife, plants, and humans—as its mission. At great sacrifice, the Pauma Band is giving renewed life to a damaged environment using old and new management practices, and has a long- term commitment to continue despite every obstacle, including wildfires.

In time, the plants and animals that have provided food, medicine, and spiritual inspiration for time immemorial will again bless the Band with a bounty of resources, as they return to the land.

Randall G. Majel, the tribe’s current chairman, says the goal of the people of Pauma is “primarily to use the forested portion of the property as a sustainable natural resource … (and) to restore the forest to its original state before the catastrophic fires.”

A Commitment to the Land

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