Johannessen, Carl L. , William A. Davenport, Artimus Millet, Steven McWilliams. The Vegetation of the Willamette Valley. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 61 (2), 286–302. 1971.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

ABSTRACT: The vegetation of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, has been modified by man for centuries. Thc earliest white men described the vegetation as extensive prairies maintained by annual fires set by Indians. The cessation of burning in the 1850s allowed expansion of forest lands on the margins of the former prairies. Today some of these forest lands have completed a cycle of growth, logging, and regrowth. Much of the former prairie is now in large-scale grain and grass seed production and is still burned annually. The pasture lands of the Valley are still maintained as open lands with widely scattered oaks. KEY WORDS: historical vegetation, Indian burning, prairies, vegetation change, Willamette Valley.

The vegetation of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, has changed significantly under human influence. The Indians of this area, at the time of contact with white settlers, set prairie fires annually, which created a prairie/open woodlands complex. The new settlers, who increased rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, forced the Indians to leave. Their practice of annual burning was temporarily discontinued. White settlers brought modifications of the habitat with their livestock and cropping, and more recently, forestry systems…

The fire-tolerant, widely-spaced oak, fir, or pine seeded the so-called openings to form thickets that have grown to dense woodlands and forest. Firs now dominate these woodlands, because the firs are able to continue vertical growth and reach light more effectively than the broadleaf trees. A complete cycle has occurred in some locations. Mature 70 to 100-year-old fir trees have been harvested from formerly open prairie and parkland, and now new crops of seedlings
have invaded the logged-over areas…

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January 10, 2008 | Comments Off | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes

O’Neill, Brian L. , Thomas J. Connolly, and Dorothy E. Freidel, with contributions by Patricia F. McDowell and Guy L. Prouty. A Holocene Geoarchaeological Record for the Upper Willamette Valley, Oregon: The Long Tom and Chalker Sites. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 61, Published by the Museum of Natural History and the Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene. 2004.


Data recovery investigations at two prehistoric sites were prompted by the Oregon Department of Transportation’s realignment of the Noti-Veneta segment of the Florence to Eugene Highway (OR 126) in Lane County, Oregon. The Long Tom (35LA439) and Chalker (35LA420) archaeological sites are located on the floodplain of the Long Tom River in the upper Willamette Valley of western Oregon. Investigations at these sites included an examination of the geomorphic setting of the project to understand the processes that have shaped the landscape and to which its human occupants adapted. The cultural components investigated ranged in age between about 10,000 and 500 years ago.

Geomorphic investigation of this portion of the Long Tom River valley documents a landform history spanning the last 11,000 years. This history is punctuated by periods of erosion and deposition, processes that relate to both the preservation and absence of archaeological evidence from particular periods. The identification of five stratigraphic units, defined from trenching and soil coring in the project area, help correlate the cultural resources found at sites located in the project. Stratigraphic Unit V, found at depths to approximately 250 cm, is a clayey paleosol with cultural radiocarbon ages between 11,000 and 10,500 cal BP. Unit N, with radiocarbon ages between approximately 10,000 and 8500 cal BP, consists of fine-textured sediments laid down during a period of accelerated deposition. An erosional unconformity separates Unit IV from the overlying Unit III. In the archaeological record, this unconformity represents a gap of nearly 3000 years, from 8500 to 5700 cal BP, and corresponds to a period of downcutting in the Willamette system that culminated with a transition from the Winkle to Ingram floodplain surfaces. Unit III sediments are sandy loams within which are found numerous oven features at the Long Tom, Chalker, and other nearby archaeological sites, and date between approximately 5700 to 4100 years ago. A near absence of radiocarbon-dated sediments in the project area between approximately 4100 and 1300 years ago suggests either a lack of use of this area during this period, or an erosional period that was apparently less severe on a regional scale. Units II and I are discontinuous bodies of vertically accreted sediments which represent a period of rapid deposition in the project area during the last 1300 years. It is estimated that Unit I sediments were deposited within the last 500 years.

Investigations at the Long Tom site discovered three cultural components. Components 1 and 3 are ephemeral traces of human presence at the site. The Late Holocene-age Component 1, found within Stratigraphic Units I and II, contains a small assemblage of chipped stone tools and debitage dominated by locally obtainable obsidian. The Early Holocene-age Component 3 contains a single obsidian uniface collected from among a scatter of fire-cracked rock and charcoal found within Stratigraphic Unit IV. Charcoal from this feature returned a radiocarbon age of 9905 cal BP. Contained within Stratigraphic Unit III, Component 2 presents evidence for a concentrated period of site use between approximately 5000 and 4000 cal BP. Geophysical exploration of the deep alluvial sediments with a proton magnetometer located magnetic anomalies, a sample of which was mechanically bisected and hand-excavated for closer analysis. A total of 21 earth ovens and two rock clusters was exposed in sediments associated with radiocarbon ages clustering about 4400 cal BP. Charred fragments of camas bulbs and hazelnut and acorn husks were recovered from the ovens. Few tools were discovered in their vicinity. Larger-scale excavations within the Middle Holocene sediments at the west end of the site discovered what is interpreted as a residential locus.

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January 10, 2008 | Comments Off | Topic:  Native Cultures, Cultural Landscapes

Connolly, Thomas J., with contributions by Joanne M. Mack, Richard E. Hughes, Thomas M. Origer, and Guy L. Prouty. The Standley Site (35D0182): Investigations into the Prehistory of Camas Valley, Southwest Oregon. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers No. 43. Published by the Department of Anthropology and Oregon State Museum of Anthropology University of Oregon, Eugene, October 1991.


The Standley site (35D0182) is located at the southern edge of Camas Valley, a small basin on the upper Coquille River of southwestern Oregon. The earliest radiocarbon date from the site is 2350 ± 80 years ago, but obsidian hydration analysis suggests that initial occupation may have begun between 4500 and 5000 years ago. Both obsidian hydration and radiocarbon evidence suggest that occupation was most intense and continuous between 3000 and 300 years ago.

Cultural patterns at the Standley site are unclear at both ends of this occupation span; the remains of the earliest use episodes were disturbed by later prehistoric occupations, and the upper levels of the site were severely disturbed by historic activity. Radiocarbon evidence for the latest occupation period (within the last 500 years) includes dates from the basal portions of posts preserved in the lower levels of the site. The best preserved cultural patterns at the site, presumed to be associated with a set of radiocarbon dates ranging from 1180 to 980 years ago, are within a relatively rock-free area in the north-central portion of the main excavation block. Distinct artifact clusters, and possible structural remains, are present within this area.

The large size of the Standley site, the possible presence of structures, and the variety and density of artifact types present-including an enormous array of chipped stone tools, hammers and anvils, edge-ground cobbles, abrading stones, pestles, stone bowls, clay figurines, painted tablets, and exotic material such as schist, pumice, and steatite-indicate that the site served as a substantial encampment of some duration. There was some evidence for structural remains (posts and bark), but no clear evidence for semisubterranean housepits such as those reported elsewhere in southwest Oregon. The presence of charred hazelnuts and camas bulbs suggest a probable summer-to-fall occupation.

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January 10, 2008 | Comments Off | Topic:  Native Cultures, Cultural Landscapes

Boyd, Robert, editor. Indians, Fire, and the Land in the Pacific Northwest. 1999. Oregon State University Press.

Selected excerpts:

Robert Boyd — Introduction

In May and June of 1792, George Vancouver’s British-sponsored, exploring expedition entered the uncharted waters of Puget Sound.1 Expecting a forested wilderness inhabited by unsophisticated natives, they were surprised at what they found. At Penn Cove, on Whidbey Island:

“The surrounding country, for several miles in most points of view, presented a delightful prospect consisting chiefly of spacious meadows elegantly adorned with clumps of trees; among which the oak bore a very considerable proportion, in size from four to six feet in circumference. In these beautiful pastures … the deer were seen playing about in great numbers. Nature had here provided the wellstocked park, and wanted only the assistance of art to constitute that desirable assemblage of surface, which is so much sought in other countries, and only to be acquired by an immoderate experience in manual labour.”

Among the “pine forests” of Admiralty Inlet, Joseph Whidbey noted “clear spots or lawns … clothed with a rich carpet of verdure.” The “verdure” of these “lawns” included “grass of an excellent quality,” tall ferns “in the sandy soils” and several other plants: “Gooseberrys, Currands, Raspberrys, & Strawberrys were to be found in many places. Onions were to be got almost everywhere.” Whidbey was nostalgic: the lawns had “a beauty of prospect equal to the most admired Parks of England.”

Nearly two centuries later, in 1979, well after the “lawns” observed by Vancouver’s party had been converted to agriculture, the “pine forests” partially cut and managed for timber production, many indigenous species supplanted by Eurasian varieties, and the villages and seasonal camps of the Native Americans replaced by the cities and farms of Euro-American newcomers, anthropologist Jay Miller went into the Methow Valley [north-central Washington] with a van load of [Methow Indian] elders, some of whom had not been there for fifty years. When we had gone through about half the valley, a woman started to cry. I thought it was because she was homesick, but, after a time, she sobbed, ‘When my people lived here, we took good care of all this land. We burned it over every fall to make it like a park. Now it is a jungle. Every Methow I talked to after that confirmed the regular program of burning.

Separated by 187 years of systemic, region-wide ecological change in the Pacific Northwest, these two sets of observations address several themes central to this volume. The Pacific Northwest at first contact with Euro-Americans was not exclusively a forested wilderness. West of the Cascades, as documented in the Vancouver journals, there were large and small prairies scattered throughout a region that was climatically more suited to forest growth. And east of the mountains, as the Methow passage suggests, the forests of the past were quite different, with a minimum of underbrush and clutter. Other differences in local environments were present both east and west.

Vancouver believed that “Nature” alone was responsible for the “luxuriant lawns” and “well-stocked parks”; there is nothing in any of the expedition’s journals suggesting that the Native inhabitants of the “inland sea” had any hand in their existence. Until relatively recently, most anthropologists believed this as well. The traditional stereotype of non-agricultural foraging peoples was that they simply took from the land and did not have the tools or knowledge to modify it to suit their needs. We now know better. Indigenous Northwesterners did indeed have a tool-fire-and they knew how to use it in ways that not only answered immediate purposes but also modified their environment. We now know that the “lawns” that Vancouver observed on Whidbey Island, the prairies that early trappers and explorers described in the Willamette Valley, and the open spaces that led the Hudson’s Bay Company to select the site of Victoria for their headquarters in 1845 had been actively manipulated and managed, if not actually “created,” by their Native inhabitants. Anthropogenic (human-caused) fire was by far the most important tool of environmental manipulation throughout the Native Pacific Northwest.

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January 7, 2008 | Comments Off | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes, Fire History

Thomas M. Bonnicksen, M. Kat Anderson, Henry T. Lewis, Charles E. Kay, and Ruthann Knudson. 1999. Native American influences on the development of forest ecosystems. In: Szaro, R. C.; Johnson, N. C.; Sexton, W. T.; Malk, A. J., eds. Ecological stewardship: A common reference for ecosystem management. Vol. 2. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd: 439-470.

Selected excerpts:


Ecosystem management cannot succeed in promoting stewardship if it fails to recognize that humans are an integral and natural part of the North American landscape. Ecosystem management has the potential for widening the gap between people and nature. Subdividing landscapes into ecosystems could create the false impression that ecosystems are real things. This illusion becomes more dangerous when people think that they live on the outside and nature exists on the inside of ecosystems.

Biologists developed the ecosystem model to describe physical, chemical, and biological interactions at a particular time within an arbitrarily defined volume of space (Lindeman 1942). They usually exclude people because the boundaries are sometimes drawn around small parts of the landscape, such as watersheds. Because management decisions come from outside, ecosystems appear as separate entities. Therefore, ecosystem management may reinforce the myth that nature exists apart from people if it does not explicitly state otherwise.

A corollary myth assumes that climate dictated the structure and function of ecosystems. On the contrary, climate provides either a favorable or unfavorable physical environment for certain plants to grow. It does not dictate which plants grow in that environment. Similarly, climate does not dictate human behavior. It only sets temporary limits. Human innovations in technique and technology can and do push back those limits. Therefore, climate is not the sole determinant nor even in many cases the dominate force in guiding the development of particular ecosystems. American Indians selectively hunted, gathered plants, and fired habitats in North America for at least 12,000 years. Unquestionably, humans played an important role in shaping North America’s forest ecosystems.

Interpretations of the impacts made by indigenous people in North America are largely limited to what can be postulated in terms of paleontological, anthropological, and archaeological evidence. None of these approaches have been completely persuasive to skeptics who require more substantial and corroborative evidence before accepting the significance of the environmental changes induced over 12,000 or more years by hunting-gathering societies and, for the last 2,000 years, by indigenous farmers as well. Taken together, however, the evidence shows a clear and convincing pattern of indigenous human influences on prehistoric, historic, and contemporary ecosystems.

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January 4, 2008 | Comments Off | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes

Carloni, Ken. The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon. 2005. Doctoral dissertation, Oregon State Univ.

Review with excerpts by Mike Dubrasich

An Oregon forest scientist has discovered (or rediscovered, to be precise) an ancient system of trails and campsites on the Umpqua National Forest. Dr. Ken Carloni of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, reported his findings in his 2005 doctoral dissertation entitled The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon.

Using a sophisticated computer system and software (Idrisi GIS from Clark Labs, 2002), Dr. Carloni modeled the most ergonomic (not too steep) and least cost (shortest) travel routes between ten known archaeological sites. The model was field-validated, leading to on-the-ground discovery of the ancient trails and additional sites, including an ancient summer village. The trail and homesite system in the Little River watershed is at least 2000 years old, and was used by Native Americans of the Yoncalla, Upper Umpqua, Cow Creek, and Molalla Tribes.

Strong historical development indications seen in modern vegetation species conditions and structures, together with archaeological artifacts, yield evidence of the validity of Dr. Carloni’s computer-predicted trail and campsite system. Among the evidence is the presence of ancient meadows and remnant open, uneven-aged, park-like forests along the travel routes. Both types of vegetation are thought to have been maintained by anthropogenic fire (Indian burning).

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December 26, 2007 | Comments Off | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes, Fire History

Stewart, Omer C. Forgotten Fires — Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. Edited and with Introductions by Henry T. Lewis and M. Kat Anderson. 2002. University of Oklahoma Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Omer Call Stewart (1910-1991) was the most perceptive, influential, and possibly the greatest American anthropologist of the 20th Century. And possibly the 21st, too; it’s fair to say that Omer Stewart was fifty years ahead of his compatriots, and his genius is still not widely recognized outside of esoteric circles.

Omer Stewart founded the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado and was its first chair. He was instrumental (and successful) in defending Native American land claims and helped to establish important legal precedents recognizing Indian land rights. He was at one time the principal defender of Native American religious beliefs, the Native American Church, and the sacramental use of peyote.

In addition, Omer Stewart is the Father of Anthropogenic Fire Theory.

Anthropogenic Fire Theory is a shorthand name for the study of indigenous human influences on the environment during the last 10,000+ years, especially in North America. Other folks call it Indian burning, or traditional environmental knowledge, or tending the wild, or tending fire, or a variety of other monikers and acronyms.

Omer Stewart developed the first elucidation of AFT in a manuscript that lay unpublished for fifty years, until 2002. He began work on Forgotten Fires in the early 1940’s. His efforts were interrupted by the war, and he renewed them in 1951. Efforts to get the manuscript published failed despite repeated attempts over the subsequent decades. Stewart freely shared his manuscript with correspondents, though. Before his death, the University of Oklahoma Press agreed to consider publication, and did publish it, though the effort took another ten years.

The publication of Forgotten Fires corresponds to the current revolution in the life sciences, wherein human cultural influences upon the historical environment are being taken into consideration, and Forgotten Fires is at the same time the elderly foundational document of that revolution.

In Forgotten Fires Omer Stewart united cultural anthropology with landscape ecology, in effect combining social sciences and history with geography, ethno-botany, forestry, range management, and fire management. His interdisciplinary approach generated new insights and understanding in each of those individual fields.

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December 7, 2007 | Leave a Comment | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes

Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 2005. Alfred E. Knopf.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

1491 is one of the best and most important books of the New Paradigm. Mann reports on our new Age of Exploration, the reconstruction of an accurate picture of the past. The new, developing ideas and evidence regarding pre-Columbian America indicate that the Western Hemisphere was populated by millions of people living in civilizations older and more advanced than those of the invading Europeans.

1491 is about the cultural and cultivated landscapes of the Americas and the indigenous peoples who lived here for millennia, caring for those landscapes. Forests were part of those landscapes, too, and the residents had huge impact upon forests during the entire Holocene.

Mann has performed an stellar job of scholarship, journalism, and scientific synthesis, and in 1491 he presents the latest anthropological, paleontological, historical, and ecological findings regarding human life in North and South America before Columbus. The work of Dr. William M. Denevan, Professor Emeritus of Geography, Univ. Wisconsin, figures prominently, as does that of Carl Sauer, William Borah, William Doolittle, James Parsons, Thomas Whitmore, and many other leading geographers, anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and ecologists.

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December 2, 2007 | Comments Off | Topic:  Cultivated Landscapes, Cultural Landscapes

Bonnicksen, Thomas M., America’s Ancient Forests–From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery. 2000. John Wiley and Sons.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Forest Science and former department head at Texas A&M University, Visiting Scholar at The Forest Foundation, and the author of the greatest book ever written about our forests, America’s Ancient Forests – From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery.

Dr. Bonnicksen holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry, and master’s and doctorate degrees in wild land resource science. He studied under Drs. A. Starker Leopold, Edward C.Stone, and Harold Biswell at UC Berkeley, and later worked with them conducting research and teaching about the history and restoration of historic native forests. Dr. Bonnicksen named the field “restoration forestry.” He has published more than 100 scientific and technical papers, articles, textbook chapters, and other publications, six computer programs and four multimedia CDs.

Dr. Bonnicksen also is a U.S. Navy veteran, former U. S. National Park Service ranger, and in 2002 received the Bush Excellence in Public Service Award for Texas A&M University Faculty for his lifetime work on the protection and restoration of native North American landscapes. The Bush Presidential Library Foundation established the award to annually recognize a Texas A&M faculty member who makes outstanding contributions to public service. From the Texas A&M press release on that occasion:

“What I care about most, after my family and country, is the restoration of America’s native forests and the security and welfare of the people who live and work in them,” Bonnicksen said.

Bonnicksen is a renowned public speaker, published author and legislation writer. His model for decision making provides a basis for strategic planning and insight into the relationship between fire and the structure and dynamics of native forests.

He wrote “America’s Ancient Forests,” published in 2000 by John Wiley & Sons. The book documents the existence of more than 20 North American ancient forests and details how the findings should be a model for maintaining today’s threatened forest lands across the nation…

“I aim at restoring forests’ historic beauty and diversity while maintaining the jobs and economies of local communities in and around them,” he said.

From briefing staff members of the U.S. House of Representatives in testifying before the U.S. Senate Forest and Public Land management Committee on Resources, Bonnicksen continues to serve as a bridge between academic and research endeavors. He has served as the sole expert intervener witness in Federal Court cases affecting all national forests in Texas, and encouraged the practical and useful application of knowledge that led to improved policy developed with active participation of the public.

In America’s Ancient Forests Dr. Bonnicksen discusses all of North America’s forests, their histories, anthropogenic fire, and much, much more, and does it with the style of an accomplished educator and professional writer. His easy, almost chatty cadence belies tremendous experience and scholarship (the bibliography is 75 pages long).

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November 11, 2007 | Leave a Comment | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes

Anderson, M. Kat. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. 2005. Univ. Calif. Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

M. Kat Anderson is a Lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis; Associate Ecologist at the Agricultural Experimental Station at the University of California, Davis; and a faculty member in the Graduate Group in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. She is coeditor, with T. C. Blackburn, of Before the Wilderness: Native Californians as Environmental Managers (1993) and coeditor, with Henry T. Lewis, of Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness by Omer C. Stewart (2002).

Tending the Wild was winner of the 2007 Mary W. Klinger Book Award from the Society for Economic Botany.

Tending the Wild focuses on the many uses the pre-Columbian California Indians made of native plants, and the methods the Indians used to perpetuate those plants. Contrary to some modern myths, California Indians were extensive agriculturalists who planted, tilled, pruned, and especially burned to manage desirable plants and animals.

Kat Anderson imparts a humanitarian undercurrent to her studies and writing. Indian burning may have had landscape-level effects, but the practices were also individualized and localized. They were personal. The real people who lived in California and across the West managed their properties for the greatest survival/sustenance values.

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November 11, 2007 | Leave a Comment | Topic:  Cultural Landscapes