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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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Friday, March 27, 2015

"The whole continent was one of continuing dismal wilderness, the haunt of wolves and bears and more savage men".......... "Now the forests are removed, the land covered with fields of corn, orchards bending with fruit and the magnificent habitations of rational and civilized people."—John Adams, 1756 ................Indeed, the European outlook on North America was that it was a land of potential, but Man had to turn it into a garden, ridding the land of its wildlife and wild men, as it was a "desolate wilderness".................."Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men?"--Nathaniel Morton; Plymouth Massachusetts-1620

source: Biocience Volume 59, Issue 8Pp. 673-684

Historical Impacts 

on River Fauna, Shifting

 Baselines, and Challenges

 for Restoration


The decimation of aquatic wildlife
 through over exploitation is usually
 perceived as a marine phenomenon,
 yet it has also been common in 
freshwater ecosystems. Fish and 
other aquatic animals were
 superabundant when Europeans
 first arrived in North America 
and were intensively exploited 
soon after. Contemporaneously,
 the construction of barriers in
 rivers increasingly prevented
 many species from migrating.
 Populations usually crashed as
 a result. 

Historical abundance of 

freshwater wildlife

During the early part of the 17th century, 
settlers quickly exploited the vast
 freshwater resources they encountered
 in eastern North America (Vickers 2004)
. In New England, for example, sturgeon, 
eels, salmon, shad, and alewives were seen
 in enormous numbers, with the anadromous 
species being the most conspicuous because 
of their massive upstream migrations during
 spring and summer.

Around 1620, Captain John Smith recorded
 that pilgrims had caught more than 12
 hogsheads of fish in one night's fishing
 (a colonial American hogshead was 48
 × 30 inches [122 × 76 centimeters] and 
could hold about 1000 pounds [454 kilograms]
 of tobacco) (
Vickers 2004). Salmon runs were breathtaking
 in their size, and at times took up the whole 
width of the river. In 1637 Thomas Morton
 observed: "Every man in New England may 
catch what he will [of sturgeon], there are 
multitudes of them" (Dempsey 2000, p. 85),
 and, "There is a fish by some called Shad, 
by some called Alewives, that at the spring 
of the year pass up the rivers to spawn in the
 ponds; and are taken in such multitudes in
 every river that hath a pond at the end, tha
t the Inhabitants dung their ground with them. 
You may see in one township a hundred acre
s together set with these fish, every acre taking
 1000 of them" (Dempsey 2000, p. 86).
The Ohio River valley had a similar super
abundance of fish. Eighteenth-century travelers 
and settlers described the huge numbers of pike
, walleye, catfish, buffalofish, suckers, drum, 
and sturgeon, as well as small fish such as sand
 darters, chub, riffle darters, and minnows 
(Trautman 1981). Fish were described as
 being so numerous that a spear thrown 
into the water only rarely missed one. On 
the other side of the continent, Lewis and 
Clarke recorded in 1804 the enormous 
abundance of salmon in the Columbia
River and local people's exploitation of 
them (Meengs and Lackey 2005). Numbers
 were so high that the people of that region 
were able to live in large, permanent groups
 and had time to develop sophisticated 
culture, art, and technology (Carson 1996).
Indeed, accounts of the superabundance of
 wildlife encountered by explorers,
 frontiersmen, soldiers, and early settlers in
 the newly colonized regions of North America 
are the norm (seeTrautman 1981Finney 1984).
 Most of those people expressed awe at the nove
l fauna and flora, and are compelling in their
 descriptions of the enormous abundance of life
 in freshwater systems. Populations of animals
 do naturally fluctuate as a result of stochastic
 and density-dependent influences, but the many
 descriptions of the incredible bounty of fish 
and other aquatic animals suggest that this 
situation was typical of faunas unaffected by 
postindustrial colonization. 

This does not imply that indigenous peoples
 did not harvest animals (and plants). In many
 cases, components of the freshwater fauna
 would have been reduced (e.g., Butler and 
Campbell 2004), but no evidence suggests 
that freshwater species were extirpated 
because of overharvesting by indigenous
 people. The displacement and death of
 indigenous peoples as a result of European
 settlement may have freed, for a time, the 
aquatic fauna from the harvesting pressure
 it had experienced previously (Humphries 
2007), and thus may have allowed wildlife
 and fish populations to expand. Accounts
 that predate the reduction of indigenous 
hunting and fishing pressure, however, 
suggest that this explanation is not entirely 

valid. Given the dearth of records of faunal 
population sizes before and after Europeans
 arrived, there will probably always be a great
 deal of uncertainty about how faunal 
populations responded to European settlement.
Previous SectionNext SectioOverexploitation and anthropogenic disturbance in freshwaterEarly European settlers in New England soon learned the habits of the fish that they encountered. In spring, settlers set nets, used seines, or made weirs at the base of falls where fish congregated, catching many fish each day, salting them, and sending them back to town (Vickers [2004] is the source of descriptions below). There were reports of constructed weirs allowing the capture of tens to hundreds of thousands of shad, alewives, and salmon per tide. As early as 1645, people of the town of Sandwich on Cape Cod complained of the netting of alewives by bass fishermen, and in 1668 several towns expressed concern about the effects of milldams on upstream fish movement. In 1710, legislation was passed in Massachusetts limiting the number of days per week that fish could be taken, restricting the gear that could be used, and banning fishing during the spawning season. Similar legislation was passed in Connecticut in 1715 and in Rhode Island in 1735.
Overfishing also had a major role in the 
collapse of the Atlantic sturgeon 
(Acispenser oxyrynchus oxyrynchus) and
 the short-nosed sturgeon (Acispenser 
brevirostris) in New England (Lichter 
et al. 2006). Fishing began in the early
 1600s in the Merrymeeting Bay area, 
and by 1720, 20 schooners were operating
 to catch sturgeon commercially. But 
sturgeon catches were unreliable and th
e fishery became sporadic. The mid-1800s
 and the last quarter of that century saw two
 revivals in the fishery, but in each case it 
was discontinued after a few years because
 overfishing severely reduced stocks. A 
similar fate befell salmon and shad 
(Clupea sapidissima) in the region 
(Lichter et al. 2006).
The lake sturgeon (Acispenser fulvescens
supported an important fishery from the
 1860s in the Great Lakes; this followed
 the collapse of riverine fisheries of 
Atlantic sturgeon that caused a shortage 
of caviar (Petersen et al. 2007). Until that
 time, there had been little interest in the
 lake sturgeon. By 1925, this species 
formed the most important commercial
 fishery in the Great Lakes, despite the
 fact that stocks were already collapsing
 (Petersen et al. 2007). Three years later,
 commercial sturgeon fishing was banned
 in US waters; a restricted fishery continues 
in some parts of Canada. Today, virtually 
all sturgeon (and paddlefish) species
 throughout the world have suffered 
fates similar to those mentioned above—
19 of the 27 species of sturgeon and
 paddlefish stocks are currently listed 
as threatened (Pikitch et al. 2005).

Pacific salmon were fished extensively by
 Native Americans before European 
settlement (Meengs and Lackey 2005)
. In Oregon, salmon were harvested by
 indigenous people in numbers comparable
 to those of the post-European settlement
 period, and thus it is likely that salmon
 populations had already been significantl
y affected by exploitation (Meengs and 
Lackey 2005). Effects on salmon by
 European colonizers began slowly, 
with trade between Native Americans 
and ships starting in the late 18th century,
 then extension of the Hudson Bay 
Company into salmon fishing and trading
 in the early 1800s. The first impacts on
 salmon stocks, however, were likely to
 have been a by-product of beaver harvesting
 (see below), and the resultant changes to
 river morphology. Then came gold mining
 in the mid-1800s, followed by logging and
 farming, all of which affected salmon habitat. 
Salmon harvesting in Oregon greatly expanded
 in 1865 with the establishment of a cannery on
 the Columbia River at Eagle Point. Although
 salmon catches fluctuated annually, by 1880 t
here were 29 canneries employing 4000 people 
on the Columbia River (Meengs and Lackey 

 Pacific salmon suffered dramatically from
 this intense harvesting and from human 
modifications to rivers (Gustaffson et al. 
2006). Since the time when Europeans first 
colonized the Pacific Northwest of North 
America, 29% of the 1400 salmon populations
 that once existed have become extinct 
(Nehlsen et al. 1991Gustaffson et al. 2006).
 The major factor causing local population
 extinctions was impediments to salmon 
migration, but overfishing also clearly 
contributed to this dire situation (Lichter 
et al. 2006Jelks et al. 2008). A recent 
report by IUCN, the International Union f
or Conservation of Nature, on the status of
 sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)
 indicated that of the 80 known subpopulations, 
26 could not be evaluated because of lack of 
data, 5 were extinct, 17 were threatened, and 2
 were nearly threatened (Rand 2008). The top
 reason given for their decline was overfishing
 of small populations.
The overall picture is bleak for those North 
American freshwater fish stocks that have 
been commercially harvested. A 2008 analysis
 of the conservation status of all North American
 freshwater fishes concluded that nearly 40% of
 the region's fauna is imperiled (Jelks et al. 2008). 
, habitat degradation and nonindigenous species
 were considered the main threats. However, a 
total of 123 North American species were 
considered as affected by overharvesting. 
Indeed, for recreationally or commercially 
species, overexploitation was considered a
 major factor contributing to their imperiled 
status: This was the case for 100% of
 sturgeon, 81% of salmonid, 67% of 
silverside, and 12% of ictalurid catfish species.

The Desolate Wilderness

A chronicle of the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton.

Here beginneth the chronicle of those
 memorable circumstances
 of the year 1620, as recorded by 
Nathaniel Morton, keeper of
 the records of Plymouth Colony,
 based on the account of 
William Bradford, sometime 
governor thereof:
So they left that goodly and
 pleasant city of Leyden, which
 had been their resting-place for 
above eleven years, but they
 knew that they were pilgrims and
 strangers here below, and 
looked not much on these things,
 but lifted up their eyes to
 Heaven, their dearest country,
 where God hath prepared for
 them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and
 therein quieted their spirits.
When they came to Delfs-Haven 
they found the ship and all
 things ready, and such of their
 friends as could not come 
with them followed after them,
 and sundry came from
 Amsterdam to see them shipt,
 and to take their leaves 
of them. One night was spent
 with little sleep with the 
most, but with friendly 
entertainment and Christian 
discourse, and other real expressions 
of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their
 friends with them, where truly doleful was
 the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to
 hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did 
sound amongst them; what tears did gush
 from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced
 each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch
 strangers that stood on the Key as spectators 
could not refrain from tears. But the tide
 (which stays for no man) calling them
 away, that were thus loath to depart, 
their Reverend Pastor, falling down on hi
s knees, and they all with him, with watery 
cheeks commended them with the most 
fervent prayers unto the Lord and His
 blessing; and then with mutual embraces
 and many tears they took their leaves 
one of another, which proved to be the
 last leave to many of them.
Being now passed the vast ocean, and a 
sea of troubles before them in expectations
, they had now no friends to welcome them, 
no inns to entertain or refresh them, no
 houses, or much less towns, to repair unto
 to seek for succour; and for the season it
 was winter, and they that know the winters 
of the country know them to be sharp and 
violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, 
dangerous to travel to known places, much
 more to search unknown coasts.
Besides, what could they see but a hideous
 and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts
 and wilde men? and what multitudes of them
 there were, they then knew not: for which 
way soever they turned their eyes (save
 upward to Heaven) they could have but
 little solace or content in respect of any 
outward object; for summer being ended, 
all things stand in appearance with a
 weatherbeaten face, and the whole country,
 full of woods and thickets, represented a 
wild and savage hew.
If they looked behind them, there was a 
mighty ocean which they had passed, and
 was now as a main bar or gulph to separate 
them from all the civil parts of the world.
This editorial has appeared annually since 1961
in The Wall Street Journal on Thanksgiving Day

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