21 Feb 2010, 8:45pm
Cultural Landscapes Fire History The Wilderness Myth Wildlife History
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How far could a squirrel travel in the treetops? A prehistory of the southern forest

Paul B. Hamel, and Edward R. Buckner 1998. How far could a squirrel travel in the treetops? A prehistory of the southern forest. Transactions of the 63rd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources conference; 1998 March 20-25; Orlando, FL. Washington, DC: Wildlife Management Institute: 309-315.

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Selected excerpts:


Conservation activities aimed at protecting old-growth forests; at maintaining populations of desired species groups, such as oaks (Quercus sp.), wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), other game species or Neotropical migratory birds; and at increasing populations of endangered species, such as red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis), Bachman’s warblers (Vermivora bachmanii), Louisiana black bears (Ursus americanus luteolus) and Tennessee coneflowers (Echinaea tennesseensis), require a target environment. This target, often viewed as the environment at some specified past time, becomes the desired future condition. If the target can be considered a stable ecosystem that is self-perpetuating under control of natural processes, the envisioned environment is a defendable “natural” target for land-use planning. If the target is not easily regarded as “natural,” but must involve cultural intervention for its appearance or persistence, the planning process must derive a target environment by some other method, one more clearly reflective of the values of the planners themselves.

Our purpose in this paper is to suggest time periods as potential candidates for the “original” or “natural”condition of the southern forest and to evaluate the forest conditions at those times in light of knowledge of past geological and cultural conditions.

The “Original” Southern Forest in 1607

A most useful starting point for characterizing the prehistory of the southern forest is the establishment of permanent English colonies in 1607. We begin there. A frequent vision of the forest, shared by authors too numerous to mention (e.g., Alverson et al. 1994) depicts relatively complete coverage of closed-canopy forest from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Plains. In this view, a squirrel, presumably a gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), would have been able to move almost in a straight line from treetop to treetop across the Carolinas and Tennessee to the Mississippi River.

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20 Feb 2010, 6:11pm
Cultivated Landscapes Cultural Landscapes Fire History
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The History of Fire in the Southern United States

Cynthia Fowler, Evelyn Konopik. 2007. The History of Fire in the Southern United States. Human Ecology Review, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2007

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Selected excerpts:


Anthropogenic fires have been a key form of disturbance in southern ecosystems for more than 10,000 years. Archaeological and ethnohistorical information reveal general patterns in fire use during the five major cultural periods in the South; these are Native American prehistory, early European settlement, industrialization, fire suppression, and fire management. Major shifts in cultural traditions are linked to significant transitions in fire regimes. A holistic approach to fire ecology is necessary for illuminating the multiple, complex links between the cultural history of the South and the evolution of southern ecosystems. The web of connections between history, society, politics, economy, and ecology are inherent to the phenomena of fire.

A Holistic View of People and Fire

Written documents that address fire ecology in the South include more than 380 years of publications, ranging from Smith’s 1625 monograph to Kennard’s 2005 essay. This body of literature includes the travelogues of European explorers, research reports on fossil pollen and charcoal records, as well as critical analyses of fire management policies. The wide variety of perspectives that is represented in
this literature reflects the web of connections between history, society, politics, economy, and ecology that are inherent to the phenomena of fire.

A multidisciplinary synthesis of the literature in light of the complexity of fire ecology will lead us to a better understanding of long term interactions between people and fire in specific ecological communities. In this article, we approach the fire ecology literature from two points of view, looking at “fire through people’s eyes” and “people through fire’s eyes” (Vayda 2005). We describe general patterns in fire use during five major cultural periods (Table 1) in four of the South’s physiographic regions: the Coastal Plains, Piedmont, Southern Appalachians, and Ozark-Ouachita Highlands. Using this holistic framework, we consider “both ends of the fire stick” (Vayda 2005) examining elements of fire use by each cultural group that has inhabited the South and its effects on southern ecosystems.

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13 Feb 2010, 11:33am
Cultural Landscapes Fire History Native Cultures
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The Alseya Valley Prairie Complex, ca. 1850: Native Landscapes in Western GLO Surveys

Bob Zybach. 2001. The Alseya Valley Prairie Complex, ca. 1850: Native Landscapes in Western GLO Surveys. IN Changing Landscapes: Proceedings of the 5th and 6th Annual Coquille Cultural Preservation Conferences 2001 and 2002, Don Ivy and R. Scott Byram (eds.), Coquille Indian Tribe, North Bend, Oregon: 161-188.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

Editor’s note: Over the past several years researchers and land managers in numerous fields have begun to recognize what many Native people have been saying for a long time; the ecological landscape in western Oregon reflects the influence of the judicious use of fire and other plant management techniques. Despite this recognition, relatively little research has been done to explore the diversity of techniques Native people used to nurture the region’s ecological mosaic. Bob Zybach applies his broad knowledge of forest ecology and historical records in assessing the extent and variety of traditionally-tended plant communities in and around the Alsea Valley. He shows us that U.S. land survey records hold crucial, but largely untapped data for research on historic Native land use. — R. Scott Byram

TODAY there is a strong interest in rediscovering the nature and extent of historical Indian land use patterns in western Oregon. Knowledge of past environmental conditions and American Indian resource management actions can prove beneficial to developing wildfire control strategies (Boyd 1999c:293; Williams 2000:45-47), preservation of threatened and endangered species (Pendergrass 1996:227), recreation and maintenance of significant cultural landscape patterns (Winkler and Bailey 2002:2-3), and logging and reforestation planning (Wakefield 1988: personal communication).

Researchers and land managers have attempted to distinguish the effects of ecosystem management practices used by Native people historically, from the “natural variability” of ecological landscapes (e.g., Vale 2002). To what extent did historical landscapes reflect peoples’ influence as well as other ecological processes? This knowledge is seen as key to the successful management of natural resources in western Oregon, where Native communities interacted closely with a complex ecosystem that has undergone drastic changes since European-American (“White”) settlement began in the early 1800s. Knowledge of historical environmental conditions is needed as a baseline for this research (Schulte and Mladenoff 2001:5). Such conditions can be estimated or documented for the lands of western Oregon by a number of methods, depending on the time period, scale, and specific location in question (Zybach 1992).

The abrupt transformation of land management practices that occurred in western Oregon in the early and middle 1800s makes this a particularly critical period to understand. Over scarcely more than a generation, diverse Indian societies were largely replaced by a population of White immigrant farm families. The catastrophic loss of Indian lives, knowledge, and land use practices through introduced diseases in the late 1700s and early 1800s, coupled with a corresponding invasion of foreign cultures, plants, animals, people, philosophies, and technologies, resulted in a landscape that was forever altered (Boyd 1999a; Robbins 1997:23-49). General Land Office (GLO) surveys completed throughout western Oregon between 1850 and 1910 provide an exceptional source of information for documenting the transition of environmental conditions from traditional Indian land management practices to introduced European practices. Although these surveys were performed during the early 1850s and after, they can also be used to make reasonable estimates of environmental conditions at the time of contact (used here to mean the first documented contact between Indians and Whites for a given area), or even earlier.

This article considers the Alsea Valley and Alsea River headwaters of the central Oregon Coast Range (see Map 1) and examines information contained in early GLO surveys for that area (see Map 2). …

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