You might remember a couple of entries in a Brainfood from back in February.
- Conservation implications of limited Native American impacts in pre-contact New England. Native Americans didn’t manage woodland by controlled burning after all…
- Global change impacts on forest and fire dynamics using paleoecology and tree census data for eastern North America. …Sure they did. Interesting discussion on this on Twitter.
I only vaguely did, but enough to ring a bell when I happened across a full-throated take-down of that first article a few days ago. The question is to what extent Indigenous Peoples used fire to manage landscapes before European colonization of what is now New England.
If the answer is “not much” — as that first paper suggests, but the second denies — then conservation interventions involving “chainsaws, cattle and sheep grazing, and hay production, rather than fire” might be justified. So it’s not just an argument about the past, but also about what’s best today. The recent rebuttal suggests that the methods used to arrive at that “not much” conclusion were deeply flawed, and resulted in what amounts to “erasure” of Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous Peoples.
Most problematically, they ignore Indigenous sources that describe modifications of the environment, including but not limited to burning, in and near Native settlements and agricultural fields and along the interlaced trails and travel corridors where people sustained economic relationships and kinship networks.
I imagine the fiery debate will continue.