Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Human Created Environmental Change Northwest


Leslie M. Johnson Gottesfeld
Aboriginal Burning for Vegetation Management in Northwest British Columbia
Human Ecology
Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 171-188

In Gottesfeld’s article “Aboriginal Burning for Vegetation Management in Northwest British Columbia” the burning practices of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en people is discussed. These burning practices were discontinued in the 1930s and 1940s by the British Columbia Forest Service. The burning was used by many other aboriginal groups like the ‘Nlakapamux, Kootenay, and Nuu-chah-nuulth, as a means of renewing the berry patches that were relied upon for winter provisions, seed production, and clearing of brush. These practices changed the environment that these groups lived in by providing more biodiversity as well as controlling certain species that invade the areas like willow pine and spruce which reduce the productivity of the berry patches when not controlled through burns. The regulation of burning has resulted in many berry patches being destroyed through ecological changes. These changes have resulted in a large reduction in the reliance on berry patches for subsistence. However in modern berries still retain a high cultural value used in weddings, family gatherings, funeral potlatch feasts and totem pole raising feasts times. As a result some Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en families consider burning to be part of native land claims campaigns and negotiations. This article is important to the topic of human created environmental change because it explains that certain parts of the environment have been changed by humans in the past (berry patches of large size), but have been changed again by human influence. This article is a great example of how one view of the environment can result in not just a major environmental change but have further human impacts, such as a shift in sustenance methods. These views are incorrect in their assumptions of untouched lands existing and being the best use of the land. Essentially there had already been human created environmental change before contact was made but after contact was made further environmental change occurred that was not in the interest of the indigenous people.

Virginia L. Butler
Resource depression on the Northwest Coast of North America
Antiquity
74:649-661

In Butler’s article “Resource Depression on the Northwest Coast of North America” the mammal and fish faunal records from eight sites were examined for a change in subsistence before and after European contact. The results suggest an increased use of low-ranked resources before contact and an increased use of high ranked resources after contact which are predicted in the change in the demographic groups. This is of particular interest because the results suggest that the historical depictions of copious resources may in part reflect a dramatic reduction in native population size. The way in which the differences in resource utilization is analyzed is through the Prey Choice model, which is a way of predicting what prey a predator should choose when a verity of potential options are available. These choices are high ranked choices give more calories than low ranked resources, and therefore low ranked choices will enter the diet when high ranked resources are less available unless an outside factor is affecting the choice made. The Prey choice model is used to explain why high-ranked resources like salmon and sturgeon may have suffered a depression of availability due to human actions. In other words salmon was still important prior to contact but the importance of salmon was decreasing prior to European contact but after contact was made that importance to the northwest economy increased drastically leading to over fishing and the depression of salmon supplies. This article is important to human created environmental change because it shows some of the effects that contact with Europeans had on the local economies and environments in the northwest coast region. Furthermore the decrease in population pressures may have resulted from the specialization of fishing for sustenance is explained by contact with Europeans. Essentially this article gives support to European contact leading to large changes in the environment as well as the native populations.

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