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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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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thanks to George Wuerthner for bringing forward information to further debunk the myth that Indians extensively used fire to modify the environment prior to European contact....... As noted eastern woodland forest historical ecologist Emily Russell (1983) has pointed out, “There is no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas"......."The presence of Indians did, however, undoubtedly increase the frequency of fires above the low numbers caused by lightning"...... "As might be expected, Indian fire use had its greatest impact in local areas near Indian habitations"....................The extent, frequency, and impact of Indian burning is not without controversy................. Raup (1937) argued that climatic change rather than Indian burning could account for certain vegetation changes............. Emily Russell (1983, 86), assessing pre1700 information for the Northeast, concluded that: "There is no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas," but Indians did "increase the frequency of fires above the low numbers caused by lightning," creating an open forest............ But then Russell adds: "in most areas climate and soil probably played the major role in determining the precolonial forests"............Russell regards Indian fires as mainly accidental and "merely" augmental to natural fires, and she discounts the reliability of many early accounts of burning................ Forman and Russell (1983, 5) expand the argument to North America in general: "regular and widespread Indian burning (Day 1953) [is] an unlikely hypothesis that regretfully has been accepted in the popular literature and consciousness"..................

From: George Wuerthner <>
Date: August 17, 2015 at 11:03:13 PM EDT
To: Rick Meril
Subject: Indian Fire Myth

This is easier to read if you go to the pdf.a that Indian burning kept forest open to justify logging, and some anti wilderness types use it to suggest that all of NA was manipulated by humans using fire. In either case, the idea that Indian burning kept fuels low and modified fire regimes across the continent is highly exaggerated. Where there is any evidence of increased ignitions from humans, it is localized and concentrated near villages and major travel corridors at the lowest elevation sites--primarily in grasslands. Most forest types in the West are simply too wet to burn on a frequent basis and/or not within the normal travel patterns of Indians. 

Stephen W. Barrett is a consulting fire ecologist based in Kalispell, MT; Thomas W. Swetnam is a Professor of Dendrochronology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ, and Director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the university; and William L. Baker is a Professor of Geography at the University of Wyoming, Laramie WY. 

INDIAN FIRE USE: DEFLATING THE LEGEND Stephen W. Barrett, Thomas W. Swetnam, William L. Baker F or many years, the importance of fire use by American Indians in altering North American ecosystems was underappreciated or ignored. Now, there seems to be an opposite trend, as exemplified in the pages of Fire Management Today (Summer 2004, volume 64[3]).* It is common now to read or hear statements to the effect that American Indians fired landscapes everywhere and all the time, so there is no such thing as a "natural" ecosystem. A myth of human manipulation everywhere in preColumbus America is replacing the equally erroneous myth of a totally pristine wilderness.

We believe that it is time to deflate the rapidly spreading myth that American Indians altered all landscapes by means of fire. In short, we believe that the case for landscape-level fire use by American Indians has been dramatically overstated and overextrapolated. Scant Historical Record Early-day accounts by EuroAmericans provide a weak basis for interpreting precontact Indian cultures. As Williams (2004) points out in Fire Management Today, "European explorers and settlers rarely saw or understood the cause

The case for landscape-level fire use by American Indians in all parts of North America has been dramatically overstated. Lightning activity over the town of Thompson, Manitoba, Canada, where extreme weather conditions sparked a number of wildfires in 2003. In presettlement times, did lightning fires maintain most fire regimes in the West—or was it fires set by American Indians? Photo: Ministry of Natural Resources, Fire Management Centre, Dryden, ON 2003. * The Summer 2004 issue of Fire Management Today (volume 64[3]) contains several articles on fire use by American Indians: Karl Brauneis, "Fire Use During the Great Sioux War," pp. 4–9; Gerald W. Williams, "American Indian Fire Use in the Arid West," pp. 10–14; Jon E. Keeley, "American Indian Influence on Fire Regimes in California's Coastal Ranges," pp. 15–16; and Hutch Brown, "Reports of American Indian Fire Use in the East," pp. 17–22. Volume 65 • No. 3 • Summer 2005 31

The vast majority of written and oral accounts on burning seems to have been highly localized and unpredictable (Kaye Indian fire use are anecdotes fraught with and Swetnam 1999; Swetnam and uncertainty, subjective opinion, and bias. Baisan 1996; Swetnam and others and-effect relationships between traditional Indian land use practices and the landscapes they found." Clearly, their anecdotal vignettes were often heavily biased (Baker 2002). They do not bear out Williams' (2004) sweeping assertions that: • "ecological impacts were extensive," • "Indians carefully chose where and when to burn," • "most of the acres burned were [likely] due to Indian-set fires," and •

"[i]t seems highly unlikely that the extensive fire effects observed in the presettlement West, especially at lower elevations, can be attributed to lightning. Such general assertions are based on a scant historical record. Williams (2004) repeats Pyne's (1982) overgeneralization that "the modification of the American continent by fire at the hands of [American Indians] was the result of repeated, controlled surface burns on a cycle of one to three years." The certitude and vast geographic sweep of this statement ("the American continent") is unjustified. The vast majority of written and oral accounts by Euro-Americans are not dispassionate observations of the presettlement West, but rather anecdotes fraught with uncertainty, subjective opinion, and bias (Baker 2002). For instance, many early travelers evidently did not recognize lightning as a major *

Although Barrett and Arno (1982) might have inadvertently contributed to the "inadequate lightning" myth, those authors were referring only to lightning potential in the context of wilderness restoration. cause of fires in the West, and many Euro-Americans might have therefore erroneously attributed fires to Indians, or perhaps they did so out of racism (Bahre 1994; Kaye and Swetnam 1999). Most oral history and biological evidence of Indian fire use has been irretrievably lost with the passage of time (Baker 2002; Barrett and Arno 1999; Kaye and Swetnam 1999). What little remains seems woefully inadequate for deriving the overly broad conclusions presented by Williams (2002, 2004) and Pyne (1982). Physical Record We prefer to address the issue from scientific and ecological perspectives. To date, we have conducted the only studies that provide statistically based empirical data from tree rings to supplement information from oral and written accounts (Barrett and Arno 1982; Kaye and Swetnam 1999).

The evidence certainly suggests that both purposeful and unintentional burning by American Indians occurred in particular places and times, but not on scales as extensive or as continuous as some would suggest. Burning occurred in some locales, apparently with some predictability, such as in well-traveled valleys of the Northern Rockies (Barrett and Arno 1982, 1999). However, Indian fires might have been less frequent in other areas, even those dominated by ponderosa pine forests. In the dry ponderosa forests of the Southwest, for example, purposeful 2001). Moreover, purposeful burning was probably rare to absent in wet or cold forest types, where climate seems to be the limiting factor for fire regimes (Agee 1993; Baker 2003; Barrett and others 1991; Buechling and Baker 2004; Johnson and Larsen 1991). Lightning fires, including onsite ignitions and lightning fires spreading from other areas, were well capable of maintaining most fire regimes in the West. Role of Lightning Lightning fires, including onsite ignitions and fires spreading from other areas, were well capable of maintaining most fire regimes in the West.*

In remote locations in the Southwest and adjacent areas in Mexico, for example, fire history studies have found no perceptible decline in fire frequency after the removal of American Indians in the late 1800s (Swetnam and others 2001). In those landscapes, lightning fires continued to burn well into the 20th century, particularly in areas without intensive livestock grazing and organized fire suppression. Even where onsite ignitions were rare, free-ranging (and potentially long-burning) lightning fires presumably contributed to many site fire histories. Because modern society has little experience with unhindered fires, some writers seem to incorrectly assume that 32 Fire Management Today site fire history depended on local Describing the Indian role in presettlement fire ignition sources. regimes will remain a highly speculative venture for ecologists and historians alike. Contrary Evidence If Indian fire use was indeed ubiquitous, how does one explain the broad mix of presettlement fire regimes (Arno 1980; Agee 1993; Barrett and Arno 1999; Swetnam and Baisan 1996)? In the Inland Northwest, for example, up to 10 different regimes have been identified (Barrett 2004; Morgan and others 1998).

Clearly, presettlement fires ranged from low-severity underburns to high-severity crown fires, and site fire frequencies ranged from less than 10 years to greater than 500 years. In our view, writers such as Williams (2002, 2004) and Pyne (1982) often create the misimpression that Indians burned every last acre of the West. Consider, for instance, the suggestive title of Williams' (2002) article, "Aboriginal Use of Fire: Are There Any 'Natural' Plant Communities?" Yet most early-day accounts suggest that Indian fire use occurred largely in grasslands and adjacent dry forests. For perspective, consider that dry forest types comprise only about 25 percent of the forested terrain in the Northern Rockies (Barrett 2004). The remainder supported widely varying forest structure, composition, and fire regimes, with scant evidence of Indian-set fires.

Speculative Venture Empirical evidence might allow us to infer which ecosystems and which geographic locales might have been most affected by Indianset fires. However, the ecological evidence suggests that such fires were probably rare or absent in many areas. Fire practices also likely differed among tribes. Factors influencing fire use probably included environmental variables (such as vegetation types and climate change), evolving lifeways (for example, before and after the acquisition of horses), shifting tribal territories, and demographic changes (such as depopulation by disease). Regrettably, most accounts of Indian fire use are vignettes allowing little more than speculation about the spatial and temporal scales of burning (Baker 2002). Consequently, describing Indians' role in presettlement fire regimes will remain a highly speculative venture for ecologists and historians alike.

 References Agee, J.K. 1993. Fire ecology of Pacific Northwest forests. Washington, DC: Island Press. Bahre, C.J. 1985. Wildfire in southeastern Arizona between 1859 and 1890. Desert Plants. 7: 190–194. Baker, W.L. 2002. Indians and fire in the Rocky Mountains: The wilderness hypothesis renewed. In: Vale, T.R.(ed.). Fire, native peoples, and the natural landscape. Washington, DC: Island Press: 41–76. Baker, W.L. 2003. Fires and climate in forested landscapes of the U.S. Rocky Mountains. In: Veblen, T.T.; Baker, W.L.; Montenegro, G.; Swetnam, T.W. (eds.).

Fire and climate change in temperate ecosystems of the western Americas. Ecol. Studies 160. New York: SpringerVerlag: 120–157. Barrett, S.W. 2004. Fire regimes in the Northern Rockies. Fire Management Today. 64(2): 32–38. Barrett, S.W.; Arno, S.F. 1982. Indian fires as an ecological influence in the Northern Rockies. Journal of Forestry. 80(10): 647–650. Barrett, S.W.; Arno, S. F. 1999. Indian fires in the Northern Rockies: Ethnohistory and ecology. In: Boyd, R.T. (ed.). Indians, fire and land in the Pacific Northwest. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press: 50–64. Barrett, S.W.; Arno, S.F.; Key, C.H. 1991. Fire regimes of western larch–lodgepole pine forests in Glacier National Park, Montana. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 21: 1711–1720. Bessie, W.C.; Johnson, E.A. 1995.

The relative importance of fuels and weather on fire behavior in subalpine forests. Ecology. 76: 747–762. Buechling, A.; Baker, W.L. 2004. A fire history from tree rings in a high-elevation forest of Rocky Mountain National Park. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 34: 1259–1273. Johnson, E.A.; Larsen, C.P.S. 1991. Climatically induced change in fire frequency in the southern Canadian Rockies. Ecology. 7(1): 194–201. Kaye, M.W.; Swetnam, T.W. 1999. An assessment of fire, climate, and Apache history in the Sacramento Mountains, New Mexico. Physical Geography. 20(4): 305–330. Pyne, S.J. 1982. Fire in America: A cultural history of wildland and rural fire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Morgan, P.; Bunting, S.; Black, A.; Merril, T.; Barrett, S.W. 1998.

Fire regimes in the Interior Columbia River Basin: Past and present. In: Fire management under fire (adapting to change). Proceedings of the Interior West Fire Council Meeting and Program; 1–4 November 1994; Coeur d'Alene, ID. Fairfield, WA: International Association of Wildland Fire: 77–82. Swetnam, T.W.; Baisan, C.H. 1996. Historical fire regime patterns in the Southwestern United States since A.D. 1700. In: Allen, C.D. (ed.). Fire effects in southwestern forests. Proceedings of the Second La Mesa Fire Symposium; 29–31 March 1994; Los Alamos, NM. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM–GTR–286. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Swetnam, T.W.; Betancourt, J.L. 1990. Fire—Southern Oscillation relations in the Southwestern United States. Science. 249: 1017–1020. Swetnam, T.W.; Baisan, C.H.; Kaib, J.M. 2001. Forest fire histories in the sky islands of La Frontera. In: Webster, G.L.; Bahre, C.J. (eds.).

Changing plant life of La Frontera: Observations on vegetation in the United States/Mexico borderlands. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press: 95–119. Volume 65 • No. 3 • Summer 2005 33 Williams, G.W. 2002. Aboriginal use of fire: Are there any "natural" plant communities? In: Kay, C. (ed.). Wilderness and political ecology: Aboriginal influences and the original state of nature. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press: 179–214. Williams, G.W. 2004. American Indian fire use in the arid West. Fire Management Today. 64(3): 10–14. ■ Additional Reading Editor's note:

The following works also pertain to the debate over practices and ecological impacts associated with fire use by American Indians. • Boyd, R., ed. Indians, fire, and the land in the Pacific Northwest. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. • Lewis, H.T.; Ferguson, T.A. 1988. Yards, corridors, and mosaics: How to burn a boreal forest. Human Ecology. 16(1): 57–77. • Stewart, O. 2002. Forgotten fires: Native Americans and the transient wilderness. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. • Pyne, S. 2001. Fire: A brief history. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. • Pyne, S. 2003. Review of Thomas Vale, ed., Fire, Native Peoples, and the Natural Landscape. Restoration Ecology. 11(2): 257–2

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