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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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Saturday, October 24, 2015

There is a growing group of Historical Ecologists who reject the PRISTINE THEORY that saids the Americas were an "untouched wilderness prior to European colonization, lightly populated by a mere 1,000,000 Indians north of Mexico.........., They reject the "romanticized view of other researchers who claim North America was a place where a squirrel could race across the treetops from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River without needing to touch the ground..............These ECOLOGICAL REVISIONISTS postulate that the landscape of 1750 was more "pristine" (less humanized) than that of 1492..............Why?.........., Because European disease and military aggression had decimated a once a significantly large population of some 3.8 million Native Americans in what we now call the USA by AD.1750,,,,,,,,,,,,,,As a result of this depopulation, wildlife numbers grew and reached their largest densities and numbers in historical times............... Many biologists estimate that as George Washington led British troops to the Forks of the Susquehana River to reconnoiter the French military just prior to the start of the French and Indian War in 1750, that in virtually every 10 square miles(6600 acres) of Eastern Woodland Forest east of the Mississippi River, there were 5 black bears, two or three pumas, two gray wolves(and/or eastern wolves), two elk, nearly 3 dozen red foxes, 200 wild turkeys, 400 whitetail deer and 20,000 gray squirrels(among other forest dwellers)--source Colonial America in 1763, almanacs of American Life Series(NY Facts on File, 1999)........So common was the trade of deerskins between French, English and Indians that a single deerskin gained a monetary value equal to one Spanish dollar---thus giving rise to the term used for the American dollar today---"A BUCK"

The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the
Americas in 1492
William M. Denevan
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706

Abstract. The myth persists that in 1492 the Americas were a sparsely populated wilderness, -a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.- There is substantial evidence, however, that the Native American landscape of the early sixteenth century was a humanized landscape almost everywhere. Populations were large. Forest composition had been modified, grasslands had been created, wildlife disrupted, and erosion was severe in places. Earthworks, roads, fields, and settlements were ubiquitous. With Indian depopulation in the wake of Old World disease, the environment recovered in many areas. A good argument can be made that the human presence was less visible in 1750 than it was in 1492.
Key Words: Pristine myth, 1492, Columbus, Native American settlement and demography, prehistoric New World, vegetation change, earthworks.

'This is the forest primeval ..."Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (Longfellow, 1847).
What was the New World like at the time of Columbus?-" Geography as it was," in the words of Carl Sauer (1971, x). The Admiral himself spoke of a 'Terrestrial Paradise," beautiful and green and fertile, teeming with birds, with naked people living there whom he called "Indians." But was the landscape encountered in the sixteenth century primarily pristine, virgin, a wilderness, nearly empty of people, or was it a humanized landscape, with the imprint of native Americans being dramatic and persistent? The former still seems to be the more common view, but the latter may be more accurate.
The pristine view is to a large extent an invention of nineteenth-century romanticist and primitivist writers such as W.H. Hudson, Cooper, Thoreau, Longfellow, and Parkman, and painters such as Catlin and Church! The wilderness image has since become part of the American heritage, associated *with a heroic pioneer past in need of preservation' (Pyne 1982, 17; also see Bowden 1992, 22). The pristine view was restated clearly in 1950 by John Bakeless in his book The Eyes of Discovery:

There were not really very many of these redmen ... the land seemed empty to invaders who came from settled Europe . . . that ancient, primeval, undisturbed wilderness . . . the streams simply boiled with fish ... so much game . . . that one hunter counted a thousand animals near a single salt lick ... the virgin wilderness of Kentucky ... the forested glory of primitive America (13, 201, 223, 314, 407).

But then he mentions that Indian "prairie fires . . . cause the often-mentioned oak openings ... Great fields of corn spread in all directions ... the Barrens ... without forest,' and that 'Early Ohio settlers found that they could drive about through the forests with sleds and horses" (31, 304, 308, 314). A contradiction?
In the ensuing forty years, scholarship has shown that Indian populations in the Americas were substantial, that the forests had indeed been altered, that landscape change was commonplace. This message, however, seems not to have reached the public through texts, essays, or talks by both academics and popularizers who have a responsibility to know better.

Kirkpatrick Sale in 1990, in his widely reported Conquest of Paradise, maintains that it was the Europeans who transformed nature, following a pattern set by Columbus. Although Sale's book has some merit and he is aware of large Indian numbers and their impacts, he nonetheless champions the widely-held dichotomy of the benign Indian landscape and the devastated Colonial landscape. He overstates both.
Similarly, Seeds of Change: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, the popular book published by the Smithsonian Institution, continues the litany of Native American passivity:

pre-Columbian America was still the First Eden, a pristine natural kingdom. The native people were transparent in the landscape, living as natural elements of the ecosphere. Their world, the New World of Columbus, was a world of barely perceptible human disturbance (Shetler 1991, 226).

To the contrary, the Indian impact was neither benign nor localized and ephemeral, nor were resources always used in a sound ecological way. The concern here is with the form and magnitude of environmental modification rather than with whether or not Indians lived in harmony with nature with sustainable systems of resource management. Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn't. What they did was to change their landscape nearly everywhere, not to the extent of post-Colonial Europeans but in important ways that merit attention.

The evidence is convincing. By 1492 Indian activity throughout the Americas had modified forest extent and composition, created and expanded grasslands, and rearranged microrelief via countless artificial earthworks. Agricultural fields were common, as were houses and towns and roads and trails. All of these had local impacts on soil, microclimate, hydrology, and wildlife. This is a large topic, for which this essay offers but an introduction to the issues, misconceptions, and residual problems. The evidence, pieced together from vague ethnohistorical accounts, field surveys, and archaeology, supports the hypothesis that the Indian landscape of 1492 had largely vanished by the mid-eighteenth century, not through a European superimposition, but because of the demise of the native population. The landscape of 1750 was more "pristine" (less humanized) than that of 1492.

Indian Numbers
The size of the native population at contact is critical to our argument. The prevailing position, a recent one, is that the Americas were well-populated rather than relatively empty lands in 1492. In the words of the sixteenth-century Spanish priest, Bartolomé de las Casas, who knew the Indies well:

All that has been discovered up to the year forty-nine 115491 is full of people, like a hive of bees, so that it seems as though God had placed all, or the greater part of the entire human race in these countries (Las Casas, in MacNutt 1909, 314).
Las Casas believed that more than 40 million Indians had died by the year 1560. Did he exaggerate? In the 1930s and 1940s, Alfred Kroeber, Angel Rosenblat, and Julian Steward believed that he had. The best counts then available indicated a population of between 815 million Indians in the Americas. Subsequently, Carl Sauer, Woodrow Borah, Sherburne F. Cook, Henry Dobyns, George Lovell, N. David Cook, myself, and others have argued for larger estimates. Many scholars now believe that there were between 40-100 million Indians in the hemisphere (Denevan 1992). This conclusion is primarily based on evidence of rapid early declines from epidemic disease prior to the first population counts (Lovell, this volume).

I have recently suggested a New World total of 53.9 million (Denevan 1992, xxvii). This divides into 3.8 million for North America, 17.2 million for Mexico, 5.6 million for Central America, 3.0 million for the Caribbean, 15.7 million for the Andes, and 8.6 million for lowland South America. These figures are based on my judgment as to the most reasonable recent tribal and regional estimates. Accepting a margin of error of about 20 percent, the New World population would lie between 43-65 million. Future regional revisions are likely to maintain the hemispheric total within this range. Other recent estimates, none based on totaling regional figures, include 43 million by Whitmore (1991, 483), 40 million by Lord and Burke (1991), 40-50 million by Cowley (1991), and 80 million for just Latin America by Schwerin (1991, 40). In any event, a population between 40-80 million is sufficient to dispel any notion of "empty lands." Moreover, the native impact on the landscape of 1492 reflected not only the population then but the cumulative effects of z growing population over the previous 15,000 years or more.

European entry into the New World abruptly reversed this trend. The decline of native American populations was rapid and severe, probably the greatest demographic disaster eve; (Lovell, this volume). Old World diseases were the primary killer. In many regions, particularly the tropical lowlands, populations fell by 90 percent or more in the first century after the contact. Indian populations (estimated) declined Hispaniola from 1 million in 1492 to a few hundred 50 years later, or by more than 99 percent in Peru from 9 million in 1520 to 670,000 in 1620 (92 percent); in the Basin of Mexico from 1.6 million in 1519 to 180,000 in 107 (89 percent); and in North America from 3.8 million in 1492 to 1 million in 1800 (74 percent). An overall drop from 53.9 million in 1492 to 5.6 million in 1650 amounts to an 89 percent reduction (Denevan 1992, xvii-xxix). The human landscape was affected accordingly, although there is not always a direct relationship between population density and human impact (Whitmore, et al. 1990, 37).

The replacement of Indians by Europeans and Africans was initially a slow process. By 1638 there were only about 30,000 English in North America (Sale 1990, 388), and by 1750 there were only 1.3 million Europeans and slaves (Meinig 1986, 247). For Latin America in 1750, 56nchez-Albornoz (1974, 7) gives a total (including Indians) of 12 million. For the hemisphere in 1750, the Atlas of World Population History reports 16 million (McEvedy and Jones 1978, 270). Thus the overall hemispheric population in 1750 was about 30 percent of what it may have been in 1492. The 1750 population, however, was very unevenly distributed, mainly located in certain coastal and highland areas with little Europeanization elsewhere. In North America in 1750, there were only small pockets of settlement beyond the coastal belt, stretching from New England to northern Florida (see maps in Meinig 1986, 209, 245). Elsewhere, combined Indian and European populations were sparse, and environmental impact was relatively minor.
Indigenous imprints on landscapes at the time of initial European contact varied regionally in form and intensity. Following are examples for vegetation and wildlife, agriculture, and the built landscape.

The Eastern Forests
The forests of New England, the Midwest, and the Southeast had been disturbed to varying degrees by Indian activity prior to European occupation. Agricultural clearing and burning had converted much of the forest into successional (fallow) growth and into semi-permanent grassy openings (meadows, barrens, plains, glades, savannas, prairies), often of considerable size.' Much of the mature forest was characterized by an open, herbaceous understory, reflecting frequent ground fires. "The de Soto expedition, consisting of many people, a large horse herd, and many swine, passed through ten states without difficulty of movement" (Sauer 1971, 283). The situation has been described in detail by Michael Williams in his recent history of American forests: "Much of the 'natural' forest remained, but the forest was not the vast, silent, unbroken, impenetrable and dense tangle of trees beloved by many writers in their romantic accounts of the forest wilderness" (1989, 33).' "The result was a forest of large, widely spaced trees, few shrubs, and much grass and herbage . . . Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different states of ecological succession" (Cronon 1983, 49-51).

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." She 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." This conclusion, I believe, is unwarranted given reports of the extent of prehistoric human burning in North America and Australia (Lewis 1982), and Europe (Patterson and Sassaman 1988, 130), and by my own and other observations on current Indian and peasant burning in Central America and South America; when unrestrained, people burn frequently and for many reasons. For the Northeast, Patterson and Sassaman (1988 ' 129) found that sedimentary charcoal accumulations were greatest where Indian populations were greatest.

The indigenous impact on wildlife is equivocal. The thesis that "overkill" hunting caused the extinction of some large mammals in North America during the late Pleistocene, as well as subsequent local and regional depletions (Martin 1978,167-72), remains controversial. By the time of the arrival of Cortéz in 1519, the dense populations of Central Mexico apparently had greatly reduced the number of large game, given reports that "they eat any living thing" (Cook and Borah 1971-79, (3) 135, 140). In Amazonia, local game depletion apparently increases with village size and duration (Good 1987). Hunting procedures in many regions seem, however, to have allowed for recovery because of the 'resting" of hunting zones intentionally or as a result of shifting of village sites.

On the other hand, forest disturbance increased herbaceous forage and edge effect, and hence the numbers of some animals (Thompson and Smith 1970, 261-4A). "Indians created ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species . . . exactly those species whose abundance so impressed English colonists: elk, deer, beaver, hare, porcupine, turkey, quail, ruffed grouse, and so on" (Cronon 1983, 51). Mite-tailed deer, peccary, birds, and other game increases in swiddens and fallows in Yucatán and Panama (Greenberg 1991; Gordon 1982, 96-112; Bennett 1968). Rostlund (1960, 407) believed that the creation of grassy openings east of the Mississippi extended the range of the bison, whose numbers increased with Indian depopulation and reduced hunting pressure between 1540-1700, and subsequently declined under White pressure.


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