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This article highlights the findings of the literature on aboriginal fire from the human-and the land-centered disciplines, and suggests that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples be incorporated into plans for reintroducing fire to the nation's forests. Traditional knowledge represents the outcome of long experimentation with application of fire by indigenous people, which can inform contemporary policy discussions.
Journal of Forestry November 200136
Every landscape reflects the his-
tory and culture of the people
who inhabit it. The worldview
of a society is often written more truth-
fully on the land than in its docu-
ments. The current American land-
scape represents the historical legacy of
one worldview superimposed on an-
other, the colonial overlaying the in-
digenous. Nowhere is this history more
apparent than in the attitudes toward
fire, attitudes made manifest on the
Euro-Americans arrived in North
America bearing their folk knowledge
that held fire in forests to be destruc-
tive and hazardous to humans (Arno
1985; Lewis 1982). This view con-
trasted sharply with the traditional
knowledge of the indigenous inhabi-
tants, who embraced the benefits of
burning and were skilled in applica-
tion of fire technology.
Fire suppression began soon after
colonization, and its effects followed the
expansion of the frontier westward. An-
thropogenic fire all but disappeared
from eastern forests by the early 1700s
and from the West by 1899 (Arno
1985). The consequences of suppres-
sion are written on the landscape today,
creating what former Secretary of Inte-
rior Bruce Babbitt (1997) called “a crisis
in forest health.” Fire suppression was a
“catastrophic disturbance for those
ecosystems which had been influenced
by anthropogenic fire throughout their
development” (Packard 1993).
The results of fire suppression have
been well documented for ecosystems
throughout North America (e.g.,
Botkin 1990; Wilson 1992; Pyne
1995; Williams 2000a). Parklands
were replaced by dense forests (Biswell
1989; Lewis 1993), prairies and savan-
nas disappeared (Lewis 1993), and re-
Robin Wall Kimmerer and Frank Kanawha Lake
This article highlights the findings of the literature on aboriginal fire from the human- and the
land-centered disciplines, and suggests that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples
be incorporated into plans for reintroducing fire to the nation’s forests. Traditional knowledge
represents the outcome of long experimentation with application of fire by indigenous people,
which can inform contemporary policy discussions.
Keywords: biodiversity; fire; history; policy; traditional knowledge
The Role of
Indigenous Burning
in Land Management
generation patterns were dramatically
altered. Fire suppression has promoted
stand homogeneity and the associated
problems of insects and disease, dis-
rupting the age-class mosaic that was
historically maintained by burning
(Barrett 2000).
The loss of fire in the American
landscape is inextricably linked with
the history of federal Indian policy that
removed tribal people and, therefore,
indigenous land management. In the
words of Williams (2000a),
The basis for much of our forest
health crisis nationwide lies in the al-
most complete cessation of burning by
Indians in fire-adapted ecosystems.
The crisis is commonly attributed to
the advent of systematic fire suppres-
sion and the Smokey Bear mentality of
the 20th century. To fully come to
grips with our forest health crisis
today, we must go back to much ear-
lier land management decisions that
ended thousands of years of Indian in-
teractions with the land, especially
through the use of fire.
Policymakers are struggling with the
outcome of that history and trying to
develop new management policy to re-
store forest health and biodiversity. The
policy pendulum has now swung back
from fire suppression to recognition that
fire regimes are an important part of
ecosystem health. However, the role of
humans in a “natural” fire regime con-
tinues to be debated (Kilgore 1985).
National forest policy now calls for
managers to recreate forests of the pre-
settlement type. Babbitt (1997) pro-
posed that fire be reintroduced for
restoration of ecosystem health and
productivity. If we are to manage for-
ests with the intent of restoration of the
presettlement condition, then it is im-
perative that we understand the role of
indigenous practices in shaping the
landscape (Kimmerer 2000).
Every ecosystem in North America
has been affected in some way by a fire
regime (Pyne 1982; Gruell 1985;
Williams 2000a) manipulated by in-
digenous people. Much forest science,
including ecological classifications of
vegetation types, arose from observa-
tion of forests that were essentially in
transition from conditions of indige-
nous fire management to post-colonial
fire suppression. Our understanding of
forest processes may thus be based on
an anomalous, transitional landscape
(Phillips 1985). “Humans have been a
part of the ecosystem over the past ten
centuries of major climatic change, so
that all forests have developed under
some kind of human influence. This
influence must be accounted for as an
important part of any study of forest
structure and dynamics” (Russell
1997). Further, Anderson (1997) sug-
gests that
a full understanding of wild plant pro-
duction will be achieved only through
the development of a better rap-
prochement between the social, his-
torical and biological sciences. It
would require the sustained and coop-
erative efforts of scholars using both
human- and land-centered avenues of
Extent of Indigenous Burning
In contrast to the romanticized view
of native peoples living with minimal
impact on unspoiled nature (Botkin
1990; Martinez 1998), the presettle-
ment landscape was strongly influ-
enced by indigenous land management
to enhance productivity (Botkin 1992;
Wilson 1992; Blackburn and Ander-
son 1993; Pyne 1995). The most pow-
erful tool for landscape manipulation
was fire. Fire was used by indigenous
people throughout North America
(Kilgore 1985; Williams 2000a), and
its presence or absence strongly shaped
the presettlement vegetation. For ex-
ample, evidence suggests that the dom-
inance of oak and chestnut in Ap-
palachian forests was enhanced by vig-
orous resprouting after indigenous
burning (Abrams 1986, 1992; Del-
court and Delcourt 1997). The extent
of tallgrass prairie of the Midwest is
thought to be largely a result of Indian
fires (e.g., Axelrod 1985).
Western forests, often thought to be
shaped primarily by wildfire, may be
more the product of indigenous burn-
ing than previously thought. For exam-
ple, the distribution and historical
dominance of sugar pine cannot be ex-
plained by frequency of “natural” light-
ning ignition alone. Cultural data pro-
vide evidence that sugar pine stands
were managed by tribal groups who
took “ownership” of individual stands
and applied fire to reduce encroach-
ment by competing species (Schenk
and Gifford 1952). Dated fire scars on
sugar pine offer the best evidence of
heightened aboriginal fire frequency in
the Sierra Nevada (Lewis 1993), which
altered the distribution and abundance
of numerous species.
So ubiquitous was Indian burning
that its absence also shaped forest com-
position. The coastal forests of the Pa-
cific Northwest have a very low inci-
dence of lightning fire. Williams
(2000a) notes that coastal redwood
forests were little affected by burning,
although small clearings were made.
He argues that fire was less prominent
among peoples who relied primarily on
marine resources for food and materi-
als. However, a few miles inland even
the coastal redwoods contained patches
of prairie “too numerous to mention
if left to themselves would doubtless
soon have produced forest, but the In-
dians were accustomed to burn them
annually so as to gather seeds. These
prairies were of incalculable value to
the Indians, not alone for their veg-
etable products, but for the game
found upon them (Loud [1918]
quoted in Lewis 1993).
Resource-rich patches in the old-
growth coastal forests were created by
indigenous manipulation of the fire re-
turn interval.
Goals of Indigenous Burning
Fires were intentionally ignited to
fulfill a wide variety of purposes, from
clearing village sites (Brown 2000) to
long-distance signaling. Lewis (1993)
documents more than 70 uses of fire,
including treefelling, clearing travel
corridors, fireproofing settlements, and
hunting. Burning also was used to re-
duce pest populations, including ro-
dents and biting insects, as well as for
collecting edible insects such as Pan-
dora moths and grasshoppers. Burning
November 2001 Journal of Forestry
in oak woodlands reduced the popula-
tion levels of acorn weevils and yielded
a more abundant acorn crop, which was
easier to harvest after burning (Mc-
Carthy 1993). Riparian areas com-
monly were burned to attract game an-
imals to the new grass and tree sprouts
(Williams 2000a). Fire still is widely
used in management of basketry plants,
to provide a consistent crop of straight,
slender shoots and roots (Ortiz 1993).
From crop management to range man-
agement, fire was a ubiquitous tool.
Indigenous people used fire to
modify the environment for their own
survival. The most important out-
come of fire use was the intentional
creation of a mosaic of habitat patches
that promoted food security by ensur-
ing a diverse and productive landscape
(Lewis 1985; Williams 2000a). Pro-
ducing such a mosaic promoted sta-
bility in the food supply by creating
multiple resource patches. Maintain-
ing a diversity of habitats buffers the
impact of natural fluctuation in a sin-
gle food species and increases overall
productivity. For example, fire was
used to create prairies which would at-
tract elk, deer, and other game. In-
digenous people skillfully modified
the fire regime to create a range of for-
est openings in many different stages
of postfire succession, which en-
hanced the diversity and yield of
game, berries, root crops, edible seeds,
and medicinal plants. In contrast, fire
was often used by the colonists with a
different intent—uniformity, such as
production of pastures, cropland, and
plantations (Williams 2000a).
The policy of fire suppression in
Western society arises from the myth
that nature can be controlled. Ironi-
cally, trying to control nature through
fire suppression has led to greater un-
predictability. The indigenous world-
view emphasizes the dual nature, cre-
ative and destructive, of all forces. Fire
can be a force for good as it warms
homes and stimulates grasses, but it
can also be immensely destructive. The
role of humans is not to control nature,
but to maintain a balance between
these opposing forces.
This balance is based on recognition
of reciprocal relationships between
human and nonhuman members of
the ecological community. As co-
equals, humans are dependent on non-
humans, and the reverse is also true
(Pierotti and Wildcat 2000). Human
application of fire is part of that inter-
dependence. The ethic of reciprocal re-
sponsibility underlies the indigenous
use of fire, an adaptive symbiosis in
which humans and nonhumans both
benefit from burning. For example, in-
digenous people of the Northwest rou-
tinely burned grasslands and savannas
to increase the yield of root crops, such
as camas and other geophytes. The
people realized a direct benefit from
burning, and so did the plants, as the
fire frequency and extent produced ex-
pansion in the patch size and popula-
tion density of the geophyte species
(Anderson 1997).
Meeting the responsibility for reci-
procity among members of the ecosys-
tem is understood to be simultaneously
pragmatic and spiritual. Application of
fire is viewed by many indigenous
groups as a spiritual responsibility to
the land, a tool that was given to peo-
ple to fulfill the caregiving responsibil-
ities for the land (Martinez 1998) and
to promote world renewal (Krober and
Gifford 1949). The Karuk people of
northern California burn ritually in
New Year ceremonies. Silas Whitman
of the Nez Perce tribe states, “We burn
because it is good for the land; fire
brings more life.” For example, the
prairies of Walpole Island First Nation
have been ritually burned since time
immemorial by the Potawatomi,
Ojibwe, and Ottawa peoples who ac-
cept this as their responsibility and
name themselves the “keepers of the
fire.” The prairies of Walpole Island are
renowned among ecologists for their
species richness, which far exceeds the
diversity where the indigenous fire
regime has been interrupted.
Sophisticated application of fire
technology has been a major compo-
nent of indigenous land management
for millennia. The landscape encoun-
tered by colonists was largely shaped by
indigenous burning, yet until recently,
few people acknowledged that Indian
fire use had an impact on the land
(Pyne 1995; Williams 2000a). A for-
estry textbook published as recently as
1973 portrayed the view that “no ha-
bitual or systematic burning was car-
ried out by the Indians” (Williams
2000a). This marginalization of tradi-
tional knowledge arose partly out of ig-
norance and prejudice, but also be-
cause of the fragmentary nature of the
evidence (Williams 2000a). Accounts
of aboriginal burning are found in
notes, journals, and the oral tradition.
These are qualitative, anecdotal sources
that are not readily accepted by West-
ern scientists whose training is usually
limited to interpretation of quantita-
tive data. Much traditional knowledge
has been lost to time and forced assim-
ilation, but much persists in the oral
tradition and practices of contempo-
rary native communities, who are only
rarely consulted as equal partners in
land management.
The correspondence between tradi-
tional ecological knowledge of fire re-
sponse and later scientific evidence is
very strong. Examination of traditional
knowledge offers an opportunity for
crosscultural verification of scientific
hypotheses concerning fire manage-
ment. There is an increasing body of ev-
idence noted by Brown (2000) that val-
idates the oral tradition, through data
collected from historical documents,
dendrochronology, charcoal profiles,
archeological evidence, and statistical
analysis of land survey records. Paleo-
ecological data also support interpreta-
tion of widespread Indian burning and
its effects on vegetation composition
(e.g., Clark and Royall 1996; Delcourt
and Delcourt 1997). However, it must
be acknowledged that there are many
pitfalls in the interpretation of such in-
direct evidence (Williams 2000a). The
widespread significance of indigenous
burning is by no means universally ac-
cepted. Kilgore (1985) summarizes the
arguments critical of the importance of
aboriginal burning, which focus primar-
ily on issues of scale.
The main impediment to scientific
acceptance of the wide impact of abo-
riginal burning arises from a lack of un-
derstanding of the cultural context in
which it took place. For many peoples,
manipulation of the landscape through
38 Journal of Forestry November 2001
November 2001 Journal of Forestry 39
skillful application of fire was critical to
cultural survival, and enhanced food
productivity made agriculture unneces-
sary (Biswell 1989).The material cul-
ture of many tribal peoples simply
could not have been sustained without
extensive use of fire (Blackburn and An-
derson 1993). In terms of energy effi-
ciency, fire was the most potent land
management tool available to indige-
nous people. Millennia of experimenta-
tion and detailed empirical observa-
tions led to a sophisticated application
of fire technology. Coupled with a
worldview that emphasizes the role of
humans as active participants in nature,
fire was integral to many cultures.
The Practice
A careful examination of the philos-
ophy and practice of Indian burning
reveals that it differs from a nonan-
thropogenic fire regime (i.e., wildfire)
in five important respects: seasonality,
frequency, extent, site, and outcome
(Williams 2000a).
Seasonality of burning varied with
the tribe and the ecosystem in question,
but in general fire was applied at a care-
fully considered time that would mini-
mize its destructive nature while har-
nessing its creative power. Numerous
studies confirm that the timing of in-
digenous burns differs significantly
from the seasonality of natural light-
ning ignitions (Barrett 1980; Barrett
and Arno 1982; Lewis 1982; Arno
1985; Brown 2000; Williams 2000a).
Lightning fires are most abundant in
the late summer, but indigenous fires
were set in seasons less conducive to
wildfire. For example, in the boreal for-
ests of northern Alberta, fire was ap-
plied in the early spring when the grass
was dry but the soil was still moist and
the surrounding forests were too wet to
carry a fire. The small-scale, low-inten-
sity burns created openings in the forest
where regrowth was accelerated on the
newly blackened earth, extending the
growing season in this harsh environ-
ment by several weeks and attracting
abundant game (Lewis 1982).
The season of burning also de-
pended on the desired outcome. For ex-
ample, people in the Southwest would
burn the chaparral in the fall to increase
forage for deer. The lower temperatures
and increased soil moisture favored vig-
orous resprouting, which was beneficial
in attracting deer in the winter. In con-
trast, if the intent was to clear land for
tobacco cultivation, the chaparral was
ignited in the spring, when a hotter
burn would discourage resprouting and
prepare a suitable seedbed. In the Great
Plains, Indians rotated the seasonality
of burning as a tool to influence sea-
sonal movement of bison, in synchrony
with their own semi-nomadic move-
ments. In the mosaic of tallgrass prairie
and aspen parkland, the prairie was
burned in the fall, forcing bison into
the parklands that the people inhabited
during the winter. In spring, the park-
lands were burned, which stimulated
movement of the bison out onto the
open prairies (Lewis 1982). This so-
phisticated application of fire required
extensive knowledge of the vegetation
response, the life history of herbivores,
and their interactions with predators.
Williams (2000a) reports an excep-
tion to the general pattern of burning
in the spring or fall, when fire intensity
would be reduced. In northern Califor-
nia and in the Willamette Valley of
Oregon, Kalapuya people burned the
grasslands in the summer, when fire
might be expected to be more intense
and potentially destructive. This un-
usual midsummer burn created a sec-
ond flush of growth in the fall when
the rains returned, a dual cropping sys-
tem that maintained local herbivore
populations. However, the intensity of
the summer burns was quite low be-
cause of their high frequency, which re-
duced fuel accumulation. Appropriate
season of burn was thus understood in
interaction with fire frequency.
Frequency. Most wildfires are started
by lightning strikes; however, scholars
of aboriginal fire agree that anthro-
pogenic fire far exceeded the frequency
of natural lightning strikes. “Lightning
in fire-adapted ecosystems does not
usually cause fires. Lightning tends to
strikehigh rocky points, individual
trees, or other places where no ignition
occurs. Most snag fires are soon extin-
guished by the rain that usually accom-
panies lightning” (Williams 2000b).
Indigenous people enhanced fire fre-
quency not only with more ignitions
but in creating fuel piles so that areas
would burn that ordinarily might not
carry a fire. Several studies of fire return
intervals (Barrett 1980; Blackburn and
Anderson 1993; Brown 2000; Williams
2000b) indicate that fire scars are much
more abundant in areas of Indian habi-
tation than in comparable regions not
managed by indigenous people.
The frequency of fire application
generally was based on the manage-
ment goal. Land was burned annually
if the intent was to increase game by
providing new grass forage. Berry
patches were maintained by burning
on a cycle of three to five years, de-
pending on the ecology of the target
species. A 10- to 12-year fire interval
was typically observed around beaver
ponds to maximize regeneration of
aspen and willows to feed beaver
(Lewis 1982; Williams 2000a). The re-
sult of altered fire frequency was to cre-
ate a mosaic of successional patches,
varying in species composition and age
structure, which ensured a diversity of
plant foods, medicines, game, and ma-
terials for the subsistence of the people.
Extent. Aboriginal burning also dif-
fers from wildfire in its extent. Most
burns were of a modest scale, designed
to maintain small successional patches.
Large-scale burns could be viewed as
maladaptive, disrupting the diverse mo-
saic, disrupting ecotones, and decreas-
ing productivity and stability of the
food supply (Lewis 1993). Extent of
fires was controlled by careful timing,
increased fire frequency and reduced
fuel load, and the use of natural fire
breaks. The mosaic of patches differing
in successional age and flammability
would itself limit the extent of fires.
Ironically, trying to control nature through fire
suppression has led to greater unpredictability.
Journal of Forestry November 200140
Without doubt, fire control was not
uniformly effective, just as we experi-
ence today, and some fires escaped,
with unintended consequences. One
notable exception to the general pattern
of small-scale burning is the huge con-
flagrations traditionally set by peoples
of the northern Great Plains. Prairie
fires would extend for miles and were
used to influence the distribution of
buffalo. This large scale of burning re-
flects the very different ways of Plains
peoples, whose food security arose not
from a mosaic of diverse patches in a
local area, but from maximizing pro-
ductivity of a single species, the buffalo.
A broad range of effects is seen, de-
pending on the resource needs of the
people and the flammability of their
Site. Indian fires also differ from
lightning-ignited wildfires in the sites
at which they occur. For example, ri-
parian areas that might not burn with-
out assistance were regularly ignited to
improve waterfowl habitat and encour-
age growth of basketry materials and
certain medicines. Locations of fires
might reflect annual migrations along
the elevational gradient, which enabled
people to take advantage of seasonally
available foods. By understanding dif-
ferential burning conditions, Indians
were able to restrict fires to certain
areas, matching the fire regime to the
ecological conditions and life history of
the target species and thus enhancing
Application to Current Goals
Aboriginal use of fire to create and
maintain a landscape mosaic is an an-
cient practice that can be a key to
meeting contemporary land-use goals.
Fire was used as a pragmatic tool to
meet the goals of indigenous practi-
tioners, to increase the yield and diver-
sity of subsistence foods. These practi-
cal goals were also coupled to a spiri-
tual responsibility to carefully use fire
to multiply life. The “natural” fire
regime was manipulated to produce a
richly diverse mosaic of vegetation
types differing in successional age and
species composition.
The intent of contemporary forest
management is no longer to support
the subsistence economy of human be-
ings but to enhance ecosystem health,
productivity, and biodiversity. It is in
this capacity that indigenous knowl-
edge of fire is an invaluable resource for
forest managers. The same indigenous
strategy that was used to increase bio-
diversity and productivity for subsis-
tence can also be used to enhance and
maintain biodiversity for goals of eco-
system health.
For example, indigenous Kalapuya
people of Oregons Willamette Valley
routinely burned savannas and mead-
ows to increase the yield of food plants
such as camas and tarweed (Williams
2000b). Other postfire species in-
creased as well, among them the Kin-
caids Lupine, a legume that is vital to
the life cycle of the Fenders blue butter-
fly (Schulz and Crone 1998). At least
24 species of butterflies once inhabited
these meadows; since cessation of in-
digenous burning, seven have become
extinct and six, including the Fenders
blue, are listed as endangered species
(Schulz and Crone 1998). Restoration
of the indigenous fire regime and the
mosaic it created can have significant
impacts on biodiversity.
Restoration of indigenous-style
burning is not a panacea for problems
of fuel accumulation and structural
changes that have accompanied a cen-
tury of fire suppression, but it should
be part of the strategy for restoration of
forest health. Pyne (1995) states that
to restore natural conditions without
the Indians and the things they did,
including burning, is to construct an
artificial landscape that is historically
and ecologically incomplete. The rea-
son for reinstating fire is not to try and
restore pre-Columbian vistas, but be-
cause we cannot sustain the landscape
we value without it.
The suppression of traditional care-
giving practices has contributed to the
current state of forest health; resump-
tion of human responsibility for fire
can be part of the solution. Indigenous
practice and philosophy offer us an al-
ternative view of the “natural” fire
regime, in which humans regain their
role as “keepers of the fire” and the
symbiotic relationship between hu-
mans, forests, and fire is reestablished
for mutual benefit.
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Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi)
( is associate profes-
sor, SUNY College of Environmental Sci-
ence and Forestry, One Forestry Drive,
Syracuse, NY 13210-2778; Frank
Kanawha Lake is graduate research assis-
tant, Pacific Traditional Ecological
Knowledge Program, Intertribal Pro-
grams Office, College of Oceanic and
Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State Uni-
versity, Corvallis.
November 2001 Journal of Forestry
... Prior to European contact, native hunter-gatherers widely used fire in their traditional burning practices for various purposes in what became America. For example, they saw burning as a spiritual responsibility to the land or as a tool to promote world renewal, clearing meadows and village sites, pest and crop management, and more [42][43][44][45][46][47][48]. They used fire as a vegetation (shrub) management tool to bring out young shoots, which they used for basketry fibers [49,50] or to increase the number of wild plants to attract wild animals, on which they depended [42]. ...
... They used fire as a vegetation (shrub) management tool to bring out young shoots, which they used for basketry fibers [49,50] or to increase the number of wild plants to attract wild animals, on which they depended [42]. Intentional fire setting was also used to create prairies-habitats for elk, deer, and other game-on which Native Americans rely [43,51]. Thus, culturally prescribed burning most importantly created a mosaic of natural habitats, which increased animal biodiversity and edible and medicinal plants [42,43,51,52]. ...
... Intentional fire setting was also used to create prairies-habitats for elk, deer, and other game-on which Native Americans rely [43,51]. Thus, culturally prescribed burning most importantly created a mosaic of natural habitats, which increased animal biodiversity and edible and medicinal plants [42,43,51,52]. ...
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In recent years, forest fires have covered many parts of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). The fires often threaten populated areas and Indigenous communities as well. In 2020-2021, the fires caused enormous economic and environmental damage and the exact amount is yet to be fully calculated. Concerns about the sheer scale of carbon emissions into the atmosphere were widely discussed by world media. Social scientists of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) raised the following questions: how do Indigenous communities live in a condition of constant threat from annual forest fires? What environmental, social, and economic challenges do they face, what do they fear, and what are their expectations? We reviewed Indigenous traditional knowledge related to fire management and firefighting techniques and analyzed Indigenous peoples' perceptions of changes in the ecological balance of water resources and permafrost. The authors also discuss the causes of forest fires, connections with industrial and transport development, and social consequences. The article is based on 2010-2021 field studies.
... In many nation-states following the onset of colonisation, traditional Indigenous fire management practices were disrupted through policies such as the removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands, prohibition of traditional practices and fire exclusion (Kimmerer and Lake 2001;Elder 2003 (Ramankutty and Foley 1999) and 50% of the total annual biomass is burned globally (Hao and Liu 1994 ...
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Indigenous cultural fire management is being renewed in many parts of the world. This research considered how cross-cultural knowledge can support this renewal. Indigenous rangers and Western scientists worked together to co-produce fire and seasons calendars to inform cultural burning and adaptive management of Indigenous Protected Areas. Quantitative studies compared the impact of cultural burning with hazard reduction and wildfire, on the culturally significant echida, threatened Backwater grevillea and dry sclerophyll forest. We found that Indigenous cultural fire management provides cultural, social, ecological and wildfire management benefits. This study co-produced collective knowledge that is transdisciplinary, dynamic and adaptive, and is well-suited to the increasingly complex, volatile and unpredictable conditions of the Pyrocene.
... Higher-density foragers manage ecosystems, especially with fire, to maintain early succession stages, increase productivity, and maintain biodiversity. Foragers systematically burn forests and grassland to attract game, make it easier to hunt, and produce mosaic habitats (Kimmerer and Lake, 2001;Turner et al., 2003). Shifting forest species have been documented for Europe, probably resulting from fire management, well before the Neolithic (Birks et al., 2016). ...
We review human effects on biodiversity using archaeological and ethnographic cases with contrasting ecologies, population densities, and economies. Relevant trends include increasing human populations, settlement sizes, and permanence; intensification of subsistence and political economies; world colonization; and changing environmental values. Although humans have always transformed ecosystems, many pre-industrial societies maintained diverse and stable environments that are now considered natural. Disastrous strategies have resulted from values associated with colonization, market economies, property systems, resource extraction and production technologies, and the isolation of decision-makers from environmental consequences. Present-day solutions should engage decision-making by local communities, especially Indigenous and traditional societies, empowering them to shape policies and achieve conservation goals.
... Current intervention strategies that include fuel reduction and repeated lowseverity fire have a strong scientific foundation (Allen et al. 2002;Prichard et al. 2021) and are effective (Stoddard et al. 2021). These strategies often accord with the cultural burning activities of many Indigenous groups across the southwestern US (Kimmerer and Lake 2001;, and, where they are conducted in diverse collaborations with tribes and other stakeholders, can have benefits to social systems that extend beyond ecosystem resilience (Lake et al. 2017). ...
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Background Forest and nonforest ecosystems of the western United States are experiencing major transformations in response to land-use change, climate warming, and their interactive effects with wildland fire. Some ecosystems are transitioning to persistent alternative types, hereafter called “vegetation type conversion” (VTC). VTC is one of the most pressing management issues in the southwestern US, yet current strategies to intervene and address change often use trial-and-error approaches devised after the fact. To better understand how to manage VTC, we gathered managers, scientists, and practitioners from across the southwestern US to collect their experiences with VTC challenges, management responses, and outcomes. Results Participants in two workshops provided 11 descriptive case studies and 61 examples of VTC from their own field observations. These experiences demonstrate the extent and complexity of ecological reorganization across the region. High-severity fire was the predominant driver of VTC in semi-arid coniferous forests. By a large margin, these forests converted to shrubland, with fewer conversions to native or non-native herbaceous communities. Chaparral and sagebrush areas nearly always converted to non-native grasses through interactions among land use, climate, and fire. Management interventions in VTC areas most often attempted to reverse changes, although we found that these efforts cover only a small portion of high-severity burn areas undergoing VTC. Some areas incurred long (>10 years) observational periods prior to initiating interventions. Efforts to facilitate VTC were rare, but could cover large spatial areas. Conclusions Our findings underscore that type conversion is a common outcome of high-severity wildland fire in the southwestern US. Ecosystem managers are frontline observers of these far-reaching and potentially persistent changes, making their experiences valuable in further developing intervention strategies and research agendas. As its drivers increase with climate change, VTC appears increasingly likely in many ecological contexts and may require management paradigms to transition as well. Approaches to VTC potentially include developing new models of desired conditions, the use of experimentation by managers, and broader implementation of adaptive management strategies. Continuing to support and develop science-manager partnerships and peer learning groups will help to shape our response to ongoing rapid ecological transformations.
... It lies within the Northeast Sands Ecoregion, a 4000 km 2 belt of sandy glacial outwash that once contained extensive areas of pine barrens and associated dry forest communities and is part of the ancestral territory of the Menominee People [53]. Along with occasional lightning fires, the Menominee frequently burned these natural communities to yield an abundance of game, nuts, and berries for food, maintaining an open forest landscape of rich structural and species diversity [54,55]. Europeans began settling in what is now the northern Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada in the 1860s to log the pines for building the cities to the south. ...
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This study examined the acceptability of different silvicultural treatments to restore pine barrens, an open, fire-dependent forest landscape type globally imperiled across the northern Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. In an online survey, we asked family-forest owners (N = 466) in Northeastern Wisconsin about the acceptability of pine barrens restoration treatments through ratings of both verbal descriptions and visual scenarios. An informational statement about pine barrens restoration purposes and goals preceded ratings for half the sample. Across the entire sample, acceptability ratings for eleven verbally-described treatments generally declined as treatments became more intensive, creating greater openness on the landscape. Information recipients found two groups of treatments identified by factor analysis (selective openings, fire) more acceptable than non-recipients, and cluster analysis identified four respondent subgroups, each with varying levels of acceptability. The respondents also rated the acceptability of visual scenarios, with treatment attribute combinations portraying a range of likely restoration alternatives. While we generally found correspondence between verbal and visual acceptability ratings across the entire sample, the groups distinguished by their verbal acceptability ratings did not substantially differ in how they rated the acceptability of the visual scenarios. Implications are discussed for designing and communicating the purpose and value of restoration treatments to stakeholder groups.
... In particular, recent publications have called into question the practicality of achieving watershed-scale changes through beaver landscape modifications or anthropogenic beaver mimicry (Nash et al., 2018;Nash et al., 2021;Pilliod et al., 2017). This is despite countless of years of Indigenous knowledge on sustainable riparian and beaver management (Albert & Trimble, 2000;Blackfeet Nation, 2018;Blackfeet Nation & Levitus, 2019;Feit, 1986;Gadgil et al., 1993;Keeble-Toll, 2018;Kimmerer, 2000;Kimmerer & Lake, 2001;Sherriff, 2021) and over a century of published data, experiments and analyses (Ives, 1942;Morgan, 1868;Neff, 1957;Ruedemann & Schoonmaker, 1938;Seton, 1929) documenting enhanced hyporheic engagement (Briggs et al., 2013;Janzen & Westbrook, 2011;X. Wang et al., 2018), improved water quality (Cornell et al., 2011;Lazar et al., 2015;Puttock et al., 2017Puttock et al., , 2018Shepherd & Nairn, 2020, naturalized flow timing (Burchsted et al., 2010), failure of traditional engineering approaches to restoration (D. ...
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Rivers and streams, when fully connected to their floodplains, are naturally resilient systems that are increasingly part of the conversation on nature‐based climate solutions. Reconnecting waterways to their floodplains improves water quality and quantity, supports biodiversity and sensitive species conservation, increases flood, drought and fire resiliency, and bolsters carbon sequestration. But, while the importance of river restoration is clear, beaver‐based restoration—for example, strategic coexistence, relocation, and mimicry—remains an underutilized strategy despite ample data demonstrating its efficacy. Climate‐driven disturbances are actively pushing streams into increasingly degraded states, and the window of opportunity for restoration will not stay open forever. Therefore, now is the perfect time to apply the science of beaver‐based low‐tech process‐based stream restoration to support building climate resilience across the landscape. Not every stream will be a good candidate for beaver‐based restoration, but we have the tools to know which ones are. Let us use them. This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Beaver connected floodplains are climate change adaptation and mitigation features of riverscapes.
... This can be accomplished through application of thinning and prescribed fire (Brown et al., 1987;Clarke & Nowak, 2009;Nowak et al., 2015;Showalter & Turchin, 1993), processes that have shaped the pine barrens landscape for centuries. In the pine barrens of Long Island, Coastal Native American tribes likely managed with fire to promote oak as a food source (from mast), pine as a source of wood and resin for canoe building, and berry production from Vaccinium (Abrams & Nowacki, 2021;Kimmerer & Lake, 2001). In the 17-19th centuries, logging and land clearing by European colonizers caused frequent fires, which led to the expansion of pitch pine forests throughout Suffolk County (Kurczewski & Boyle, 2000). ...
1. Climate change is facilitating a novel range expansion of southern pine beetle (SPB) into globally rare north-eastern pitch pine barrens. 2. By assessing stand conditions present in SPB-infested and uninfested pitch pine stands on Long Island, NY, USA, we developed a regionally-calibrated hazard rating model that predicts stand-level SPB susceptibility. 3. The model indicates that a stand's SPB susceptibility increases with (1) increasing pitch pine basal area, (2) increasing instances of previous year SPB spots nearby, and (3) sandy soil texture. 4. The model informs adaptation strategies to a novel pest dynamic by supporting the identification and prioritization of high hazard stands for prevention management. 5. An alignment between treatments effective in reducing SPB vulnerability and conserving pine barrens communities indicates that pine barrens can be managed both to improve resilience to future threats and preserve historic ecological conditions.
... Knowing whether burning strategies yield desirable modern ecological goals can inform modern land managers and policy decisions regarding the reintroduction of fire to support biodiversity (Kimmerer & Lake, 2001). A comprehensive understanding of Native American land use can help identify cultural keystone places, areas of high biocultural significance, for simultaneous conservation or restoration of cultural landscapes and biodiversity (Cuerrier et al., 2015). ...
Researchers have debated impacts of past Native American land use on forests including upon tree species composition in north‐eastern United States (US), with estimates of impacts ranging from local to regional extent. This study examines tree relative abundances to assess whether Native Americans influenced geographic distributions prior to Euro‐American settlement. North‐eastern United States (approx. 420,000 km2). Ash (Fraxinus spp.), basswood (Tilia americana), beech (Fagus grandifolia), birch (Betula spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), chestnut (Castanea dentata), dogwood (Cornus spp.), elm (Ulmus spp.), fir (Abies balsamea), hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), hickory (Carya spp.), ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana and Ostrya virginiana), maple (Acer spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), pine (Pinus spp.), spruce (Picea spp.), tamarack (Larix laricina) and walnut (Juglans spp.), We used boosted regression trees to model abundance patterns and to assess the importance of distance‐based proxies of Native American land use versus environmental variables. We trained models that included and excluded distance‐based proxies. Abundance estimates from original land survey records (1650–1850 CE) were acquired for taxa at 8 km spatial resolution, and related to Native American settlement locations (1500–1800 CE) and 27 environmental variables. When evaluated upon test data, regional‐scale models of relative abundance that included distance‐based proxies performed only slightly better than models that excluded them, with mean improvements in RMSE of 0.1 percentage points. Models suggest that Native American land use modestly altered the relative abundance of taxa locally, extending no more than 50 km from settlement. Models also suggest slight increases near settlement of a few percentage points in relative abundance for fire‐tolerant and/or dietary taxa (e.g. oak, hickory and pine), and for early‐successional taxa (e.g. ash). Past Native American land use had no detectable effect on forest composition across a regional extent, but increased the abundance of fire‐tolerant, shade‐intolerant and nut‐producing trees locally.
... Indigenous peoples used landscape and cultural fire intentionally for a wide range of purposes. Highly localized, small-scale fire use facilitated communication and increased abundance of culturally important plants and the production of food, fiber, and medicines, while broader landscape application of fire supported hunting, crop cultivation, land clearing, maintenance of travel routes, and reduced risk of wildfires around communities (Kimmerer & Lake, 2001). Meta-analyses of Indigenous fire use make clear that many groups globally viewed and understood complex ecosystems holistically, and used fire in myriad ways to achieve sustainability and resilience (Trauernicht et al., 2015). ...
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Recent wildfire outbreaks around the world have prompted concern that climate change is increasing fire incidence, threatening human livelihood and biodiversity, and perpetuating climate change. Here, we review current understanding of the impacts of climate change on fire weather (weather conditions conducive to the ignition and spread of wildfires) and the consequences for regional fire activity as mediated by a range of other bioclimatic factors (including vegetation biogeography, productivity and lightning) and human factors (including ignition, suppression, and land use). Through supplemental analyses, we present a stocktake of regional trends in fire weather and burned area (BA) during recent decades, and we examine how fire activity relates to its bioclimatic and human drivers. Fire weather controls the annual timing of fires in most world regions and also drives inter‐annual variability in BA in the Mediterranean, the Pacific US and high latitude forests. Increases in the frequency and extremity of fire weather have been globally pervasive due to climate change during 1979–2019, meaning that landscapes are primed to burn more frequently. Correspondingly, increases in BA of ∼50% or higher have been seen in some extratropical forest ecoregions including in the Pacific US and high‐latitude forests during 2001–2019, though interannual variability remains large in these regions. Nonetheless, other bioclimatic and human factors can override the relationship between BA and fire weather. For example, BA in savannahs relates more strongly to patterns of fuel production or to the fragmentation of naturally fire‐prone landscapes by agriculture. Similarly, BA trends in tropical forests relate more strongly to deforestation rates and forest degradation than to changing fire weather. Overall, BA has reduced by 27% globally in the past two decades, due in large part to a decline in BA in African savannahs. According to climate models, the prevalence and extremity of fire weather has already emerged beyond its pre‐industrial variability in the Mediterranean due to climate change, and emergence will become increasingly widespread at additional levels of warming. Moreover, several of the major wildfires experienced in recent years, including the Australian bushfires of 2019/2020, have occurred amidst fire weather conditions that were considerably more likely due to climate change. Current fire models incompletely reproduce the observed spatial patterns of BA based on their existing representations of the relationships between fire and its bioclimatic and human controls, and historical trends in BA also vary considerably across models. Advances in the observation of fire and understanding of its controlling factors are supporting the addition or optimization of a range of processes in models. Overall, climate change is exerting a pervasive upwards pressure on fire globally by increasing the frequency and intensity of fire weather, and this upwards pressure will escalate with each increment of global warming. Improvements to fire models and a better understanding of the interactions between climate, climate extremes, humans and fire are required to predict future fire activity and to mitigate against its consequences.
... Despite uncertainties and challenges, fire may still have an important role to play in future forests altered by climate change [83]. Fire has been suppressed in many fire-adapted ecosystems over the past few centuries to the detriment of native ecological and human communities [77,84]. Exclusion of fire from fire-dependent ecosystems has resulted in broad and cascading impacts across ecological scales. ...
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As the effects of climate change accumulate and intensify, resource managers juggle existing goals and new mandates to operationalize adaptation. Fire managers contend with the direct effects of climate change on resources in addition to climate-induced disruptions to fire regimes and subsequent ecosystem effects. In systems stressed by warming and drying, increased fire activity amplifies the pace of change and scale of severe disturbance events, heightening the urgency for management action. Fire managers are asked to integrate information on climate impacts with their professional expertise to determine how to achieve management objectives in a changing climate with altered fire regimes. This is a difficult task, and managers need support as they incorporate climate adaptation into planning and operations. We present a list of adaptation strategies and approaches specific to fire and climate based on co-produced knowledge from a science–management partnership and pilot-tested in a two-day workshop with natural resource managers and regional stakeholders. This “menu” is a flexible and useful tool for fire managers who need to connect the dots between fire ecology, climate science, adaptation intent, and management implementation. It was created and tested as part of an adaptation framework used widely across the United States and should be applicable and useful in many fire-prone forest ecosystems.
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Contemporary Western attitudes concerning the management of natural re- sources, treatment of nonhuman animals, and the natural world emerge from traditions derived from Western European philosophy, i.e., they assume that humans are autonomous from, and in control of, the natural world. A different approach is presented by Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of indigenous peoples of North America. Although spiritually oriented, TEK converges on Western scientific approaches. TEK is based on close obser- vation of nature and natural phenomena; however, it is combined with a concept of com- munity membership that differs from that of Western political and social thought. TEK is strongly tied to specific physical localities; therefore, all aspects of the physical space can be considered part of the community, including animals, plants, and landforms. As a con- sequence, native worldviews can be considered to be spatially oriented, in contrast to the temporal orientation of Western political and historical thought. TEK also emphasizes the idea that individual plants and animals exist on their own terms. This sense of place and concern for individuals leads to two basic TEK concepts: (1) all things are connected, which is conceptually related to Western community ecology, and (2) all things are related, which changes the emphasis from the human to the ecological community as the focus of theories concerning nature. Connectedness and relatedness are involved in the clan systems of many indigenous peoples, where nonhuman organisms are recognized as relatives whom the humans are obliged to treat with respect and honor. Convergence of TEK and Western science suggests that there may be areas in which TEK can contribute insights, or possibly even new concepts, to Western science. TEK is inherently multidisciplinary in that it links the human and the nonhuman, and is the basis not only for indigenous concepts of nature, but also for concepts of indigenous politics and ethics. This multidisciplinary aspect sug- gests that TEK may be useful in resolving conflicts involving a variety of stakeholders and interest groups in controversies over natural resource use, animal rights, and conservation. TEK may also have implications for human behavior and obligations toward other forms of life that are often unrecognized, or at least not emphasized, in Western science. We present examples from community and behavioral ecology where a TEK-based approach yielded unexpected and nonintuitive insights into natural phenomena. Understanding of TEK may be useful in helping scientists respond to the changing public perceptions of science, and new cultural pressures in our society.
One of the oldest forms of tillage in the world is the digging of subterranean organs of wild plants for food and other purposes. Many areas were managed for increased densities and abundances of wild plants with edible corms, bulbs, tubers, and rhizomes. The horticultural techniques of digging, replanting, and sparing, in conjunction with larger-scale habitat management, created ecological effects at the species, population, community, and landscape levels . California provides a vivid example of an area where tillage was an important element in a comprehensive land management system that was in place for millennia. It is hypothesized that native California tillage activities mimicked natural disturbances with which plants coevolved, and played an ecological role that is now vacant in many wildlands, where Native Americans can no longer harvest and manage plants. Their land management system needs to be studied, described, interpreted, and experimentally mimicked to better understand indigenous disturbance regimes. It is suggested that some wildland areas would benefit from the reintroduction of management and harvesting regimes that authentically mimic indigenous techniques. RESUMEN.-Una de las formas mas antiguas de labranza en el mundo fue excavar los 6rganos subterraneos de plantas silvestres para obtener alimento y para otros prop6sitos. Muchas areas fueron manejadas para incrementar la densidad y abundancia de plantas silvestres con corrnos, bulbos y tuberculos comestibles. Las tecnicas horticolas de escarbar, replantar y dejar plantas para que proliferen, junto con el manejo del habitat a mayor escala, crearon efectos ecol6gicos al nivel de especie, poblaci6n, comunidad y paisaje . California ofrece un ejemplo elocuente de un area donde la labranza fue un elemento importante en un sistema integral de manejo del terreno que oper6 a 10 largo de milenios. Se plantea como hip6tesis que las actividades de labranza de la poblaci6n indigena de California simulaban las perturbaciones naturales con las cuales habian coevolucionado las plantas, y que jugaban un papel ecol6gico ahora vacante en muchas areas naturales, donde los indigenas ya no pueden cosechar y manejar las plantas. Sus sistemas de manejo del terreno deben ser estudiados, descritos, interpretados y reproducidos experimentalmente para entender mejor los regimenes indigenas de perturbaci6n. Se sugiere que algunas areas naturales se beneficiarian de la reintroducci6n de regimenes de manejo y cosecha que imitaran las interacciones indigenas de una manera autentica, RESUME.-Une des plus anciennes formes de labourage au monde consistait a fouiller la terre pour en extraire les organes souterrains des plantes sauvages utilises comme aliments ou a d 'autres fins . Plusieurs endroits etaient geres afin 150 M. K. ANDERSON Vol. 17,No.2 d'augmenter en densite et en abondance les plantes sauvages qui comportaient des rhizomes, des bulbes et des tubercules comestibles . Les techniques d'horticulture d' extraction, d' ensemencementet de jachereassocieesaune gestion de l'habitat a grande echelle a produit des effets ecologiques aux niveaux de I'espece, de la population, de la cornmunaute et du paysage. La Californie foumit un exemple frappant d'un endroit ou Ie labourage etait un element important dans un systeme global de gestion des terres, en place depuis des millenaires, Nous emettons l'hypothese que les activites de labourage des Amerindiens de la Californie mimaient les perturbations naturelles du milieu ou coevoluaient les plantes et ont joue un role ecologique qui maintenant fait defaut aplusieurs terres sauvages ou les autochtones d' Amerique ne peuvent desorrnais plus recolter et gerer les plantes. Leur systeme de gestion des terres doit etre etudie, decrit, interprete et mime de facon experimentale afin de mieux comprendre les regimes de perturbation autochtones. II est suggere que quelques endroits sauvages pourraient beneficier d'une reintroduction des regimes de gestion et de recolte qui mimeraient de facon authentique les interactions autochtones .
Research into the nature and functioning of the oak savannas and woodlands of the American Midwest is leading to re-evaluation of ideas concerning plant community structure and succession, which in turn requires reassessment of landscape management and restoration. The author's goal is to restore savanna to its last known natural state and then let processes that are as natural as possible proceed. -P.J.Jarvis
1 Presettlement fire regimes in north-eastern North America and their dependence on climate, fuels, and cultural patterns are poorly understood due to lack of relevant historic or palaeoecological data. Annual records of sediment charcoal accumulation were compiled from seven sites spanning the last 2000 years and representing important climate, vegetation, and cultural settings. Results were compared across sites and across changes in Indian cultures to determine whether fire patterns might be explained by one or more of these variables. 2 Clearly interpretable fires were restricted to the western (most xeric) portion of our study region in Pine Hardwoods of Minnesota, a single fire in Northern Hardwoods of northern Wisconsin, and cultural burning near an Iroquois village in southern Ontario. Other sites in Northern Hardwoods and Hardwood Hemlock forests did not show clear evidence of fire. Spectral analysis suggested instances in which local fire regimes departed from regional ones. 3 Our interpretation suggests substantially longer intervals between fires than reported in previous sediment charcoal studies. We did not find evidence for fire in mixed oak forests, where it has been speculated that fire might be necessary for oak recruitment, suggesting need for further analysis. 4 A single site in northern Wisconsin was the only Algonquin site showing a clear increase in charcoal suggesting local fire. Algonquin use of fire for hunting may not have affected our sites. A single site in Sioux territory experienced such frequent fire that cultural effects were not evident, even when Sioux were replaced by Chippewa (Algonquin) in the 18th century. One of two Iroquois sites showed clear increases in charcoal during occupation. The second site may not have had settlements nearby.