Conservation Implications of Limited Native American Impacts in Pre-Contact New England
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Shuman, Bryan N.
Chilton, Elizabeth S.
Duranleau, Deena L.
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CitationOswald, W. Wyatt, Foster, David R, Shuman, Bryan N, Chilton, Elizabeth S, Doucette, Dianna L, and Duranleau, Deena L. "Conservation Implications of Limited Native American Impacts in Pre-contact New England." Nature Sustainability 3, no. 3 (2020): 241-46.
AbstractAn increasingly accepted paradigm in conservation attributes valued modern ecological conditions to past human activities. Accordingly, disturbances, including prescribed fire, are employed by land managers to impede forest development in many potentially wooded landscapes under the interpretation that openland habitats were created and sustained by human-set fire for millennia. We test this paradigm using paleoenvironmental and archaeological data from New England. Despite the region’s dense population, anthropogenic impacts to the landscape before European contact were limited and fire activity was independent of changes in human populations. Whereas human populations reached maxima during the Late Archaic (5000-3000 ybp) and Middle-Late Woodland (1500-500 ybp) periods, lake-sediment charcoal records indicate elevated fire activity only during the dry early Holocene (10,000-8000 ybp) and following European colonization. Pollen data depict closed forests from 8000 ybp to the onset of European deforestation, and archaeological evidence of pre-contact horticultural activity is sparse. Climate largely controlled fire severity in New England during the postglacial interval, and widespread openlands developed only after deforestation for European agriculture. Land managers seeking to emulate pre-contact conditions should deemphasize human disturbance and focus on developing mature forests; those seeking to maintain openlands should apply the agricultural approaches that initiated them four centuries ago.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37374256
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