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Coyotes-Wolves-Cougars.blogspot.com

Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The "Myth of the Ecological Indian", the supposition that our indigenous Americans always livied in harmony with the animals of the land, is explored fully by Sean Gerrity of the AMERICAN PRAIRIE RESERVE in his essay entitled TOP PREDATOR ON THE PLAINS--WOLF, BEAR OR HUMAN?............The fact is that prior to 1500AD, the Americas were occupied by significant populations of Indians who had real ecological impacts on the land and its animal inhabitants..............With up to 90% of the indigenous population dying from European contracted diseases(smallpox, Diptheria, Flu, Pox, et al.) spread by Spanish, English, Dutch and French Explorers that crisscrossed North America all during the 16th century, the remaining 10% of the original indigenous human population had minimal impact on mammal populations during the 150 year span 1500-1650...............Our native animal populations had rebounded to significant levels by the time colonists came ashore in the early 1600's................So the perception of these colonists and their descendants right on up to and including the Mountain Men who pushed west of St. Louis post Louis & Clark was that America was a pristine land of unlimited Bison, Wolves, Pumas, Bears and creatures of every kind..........."Attempting to measure how significantly Native Americans restricted wildlife ranges and constrained population sizes is controversial"..........."Some researchers theorize that aboriginals had a tremendous impact on wildlife and that it is a mistake to view Native American cultures as “conservationist.” (Alvard 1993, Kay 1994)"........... "An entry from William Clark’s journal has been used to support this hypothesis. On August 29th 1806, near Chamberlain, South Dakota, Clark comes across a herd of buffalo that he claims must number 20,000 and writes, “I have observed that in the country between the nations which are at war with each other the greatest number of wild animals are to be found"............ "This observation has prompted academics to consider whether large populations of wildlife were funneled into “buffer zones” between warring tribes where they were safe from human threat (Martin and Szuter 1999, Laliberte and Ripple 2001).................Other historians make the claim that the LITTLE ICE AGE that cooled North America significantly between 1500 and 1850 negatively impacted the populations of our native carnivores and hoofed browsers..............I personally subscribe to the former rather than later premise(larger Indian populations reduced animal populations) but also recognize that since Aboriginal religious practices did not have men as superior beings to other animals, something more akin to human animal, wild animal and plant equilibrium and sustainability existed in North America prior to Europeans coming on the scene

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/09/24/top-predator-on-the-plains-wolf-bear-or-human/#.Uw1JzUA01Xo.email

TOP PREDATOR ON THE PLAINS---WOLF, BEAR OR HUMAN?
Posted by Sean Gerrity of American Prairie Reserve, National Geographic Fellow on September 24, 2012


Looking back in time, who was the top predator of the American prairie ecosystem? Wolves, grizzly bears… humans? As I continue my research of historic wildlife populations in northeastern Montana (read my first post here), it is important to consider how changes in human populations were affecting the ecology of this area. There was a tendency among European and American explorers to romanticize the landscapes they encountered as pristine paradises flourishing with wild animals and vegetation. In fact, this land had been inhabited by hundreds of thousands of humans that had shaped the ecosystem in variable ways.
Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Plains hunted a variety of game animals, but buffalo was certainly the fundamental source of food, clothing, tools and shelter. Archaeological evidence indicates that humans hunted buffalo in Montana as early as 11000 B.C., but it was during the middle prehistoric (4000 to 500 B.C.) that cultures made wide use of buffalo jumps – cliffs over which humans could drive a whole herd of buffalo for slaughter. Archaeologists estimate that humans killed up to 200,000 bison a year in Montana using this method, whereas wolves only killed 25,000.

View from a buffalo jump as it exists today on the Charles
 M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, just south of
American Prairie Reserve in Montana. Photo by David
Driscoll.

Attempting to measure how significantly Native Americans restricted wildlife ranges and constrained population sizes is controversial. Some researchers theorize that aboriginals had a tremendous impact on wildlife and that it is a mistake to view Native American cultures as “conservationist.” (Alvard 1993, Kay 1994). An entry from William Clark’s journal has been used to support this hypothesis. On August 29th 1806, near Chamberlain, South Dakota, Clark comes across a herd of buffalo that he claims must number 20,000 and writes, “I have observed that in the country between the nations which are at war with each other the greatest number of wild animals are to be found.” This observation has prompted academics to consider whether large populations of wildlife were funneled into “buffer zones” between warring tribes where they were safe from human threat (Martin and Szuter 1999, Laliberte and Ripple 2001).
Other experts think that this theory is overstated or completely wrong. These scientists and historians point to huge climatic changes and biogeographic differences that could have accounted for the wildlife distributions observed by Lewis and Clark (Yochim 2001, Lyman and Wolverton 2002). Most notably, from 1500 to 1850, advancing glaciers created something known as the Little Ice Age on the Northern Great Plains. Species like pronghorn, elk, and deer would have been particularly affected by colder temperatures and increased snow depth.

“Hunting of the Grizzly Bear” by Karl Bodmer, 1842.
 Source: National Museum of Wildlife Art.

I sat down recently with Yellowstone historian Paul Schullery to discuss grizzly bear populations in Montana. Instead, we spent much of our time discussing changes in the prairie landscape over time. “Nothing is stable,” Schullery said. “Things change all the time, and they had already changed because of the horse . . . [Lewis and Clark] were not seeing an unaffected situation.”
Horses allowed man the element of mobility and precision that had never existed previously. Northern Plains tribes like the Blackfoot, Crow, Mandan, and Hidatsa had access to the horse starting in the mid 1700’s. When Lewis and Clark arrived, these tribes were going through a massive cultural shift, and the effect of that transition had not been fully realized.

Assiniboine hunting buffalo,” painting by Paul Kane circa
1851-1856. Source: Learn NC.

While the horse made the Plains Indians much more effective hunters, small pox was simultaneously devastating their populations. European explorers brought to America a slew of Old World diseases for which Native Americans were immunologically unprepared. Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-1805 at Fort Mandan in western North Dakota, where an estimated 90% of the population had been wiped out in the preceding half century. This extreme effect on a top predator would certainly have influenced the population dynamics of other species in the ecosystem.
Dynamics within human populations such as disease, tribal warfare, and integration of the horse help to both muddle and clarify the historic range and abundance of wildlife. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic as I try to make sense of these issues myself.

American Prairie Reserve intern Michelle Berry is a Master’s student in environmental studies at Stanford. She has been tasked with examining historical works of literature and other primary sources to establish wildlife population estimates in the Reserve region of northeastern Montana.Her 10-week internship was made possible by the Bill Lane Center for the American West.
Note: Feature image is “White Wolves Attacking a Buffalo Bull” by George Catlin, 1841. 

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although I agree that an unrealistic romantic image of the Native Americans as being superb conservationists is too simplified and generalized to be accurate(there were ALL MANNER of diverse cultures which varied ENORMOUSLY from each other in many ways, in the pre-European Americas!!!!), I ALSO find it somewhat irritating(perhaps my 1/64th Comanche genetics kicking in) that other researchers pooh-pooh THE FACT that MANY Native American cultures DID have a helluva better conservation ethic for their time than the invading Europeans did! No, they weren't perfect(as NO human cultures have been), but no matter how much they did or didn't manipulate their environments, they CERTAINLY managed to develop ways to live in better harmony with their environments than the "Takers"(I use this term from the SPLENDID books "Ishmael" and "My Ishmael", which ALL CONCERNED with saving our planet SHOULD READ!) from Europe had! All you have to do is see how incredibly RICH the wildlife and environments were when the Euro invasion began. Yet, WHERE did the Native Americans LEARN such philosophy? They certainly did not just spring into existence with such ideals intact, and no doubt they were still being developed and modified when that meddler Columbus showed up! MY pet theory is that these amazing conservation ethics evolved from the tragic loss of the megafauna during the great Pleistocene extinctions--there are numerous American Indian legends telling of human greed and waste that the spirit powers punished them for, and how from that, they learned to take only what they needed, and to RESPECT their animal brothers. Perhaps these "legends" and stories were a direct result of the megafauna extinctions? And the regret caused by those extinctions?....L.B.

Rick Meril said...

No question L.B. that indigenous peoples had a better environmental attitude regarding coexistence with other creatures as their spiritual beliefs were interwined with animal symbolism............As I stated in my blog..........would their reviving populations and ultimate emergence out of the stone age have brought similar havoc to the environment as the European invasion had wrought?...........Who is to say?

Anonymous said...

That's the big "if" for sure--but then we have all been brainwashed by our culture to believe that such "advancement" is the "natural" progression/evolution of mankind, which it most assuredly(as I now believe) is NOT. Which philosophy I got from those two books I mentioned, "Ishmael" and the necessary sequel "My Ishmael"--which I am highly recommending to everyone out there! Cheapo copies available on Amazon and elsewhere! Authored by the obvious GENIUS Daniel Quinn! One of the main premises of these GREAT books, is that for hundreds of thousands of years, humans lived in accordance to Nature's rules, in all kinds of diverse cultural ways, and had NO DESIRE to deviate from that. And resisted mightily when THE ONE culture that did(Totalitarian Agriculture) that arose in the "fertile crescent" in the Mideast, spread and either absorbed or destroyed EVERY OTHER diverse culture in the world--and still is! But the point is, that IS NOT humankinds' inevitable destiny, if they can resist it(resisting it effectively is the one hitch to all this philosophy!).....L.B.

Rick Meril said...

L.B............buying the Ishmael books and will comment post hence