AoR 93: After 1492, Nature Rebounds -- William Denevan on the Pristine Myth

"Nature’s regeneration was the primary source of the Pristine Myth." --Shawn Miller
The influence of the idea that the American continent was essentially untouched by man at the time of European arrival is great. The Pristine Myth, a term coined by William Denevan, a cultural geographer, strikes at prejudicial ideas about the primitive-ness of indigenous peoples. And the persistence of this idea reveals a desire to coerce modern man into a preservationist policy toward most public places. In this episode, Tip reads an article by William Denevan (91 yo, who declined to be interviewed about it but granted permission to release a verbatim reading. "After 1492: Nature Rebounds" is a 2016 article in Geographical Review, the oldest journal in the United States devoted to geography. The article makes the case that the apparent wilderness encountered in the 16th through 18th centuries reflected a landscape recently wiped clean of people, that there were a lot of people prior to 1492, and that our conception of wildlands mostly comes from an entire hemisphere that suddenly had few humans to influence it.


AFTER 1492: NATURE REBOUNDS WILLIAM M. DENEVAN ABSTRACT. Postapocalypse stories about human survival and rebound of nature following mass disaster are a familiar genre. A major real world example is the demise of most Native Americans after 1492. This essay is a review of some of what is known about the subsequent return of forests and the explosion of wildlife numbers in the neotropics and in North America. The belief by many early Europeans in the New World, including influential postcolonial writers, that the bounty they observed had preceded them, was mostly false. Keywords: California, eastern North America, forest rebounds, neotropics, wildlife irruptions, world without people. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. —Ecclesiastes 1611, 1:4 Nature’s regeneration was the primary source of the Pristine Myth. —Shawn W. Miller 2007 A nthropogenic environmental change in the past is an increasing concern of historical geographers, environmental historians, and archaeologists, along with ecologists and paleoecologists. Emphasis has been on deforestation, wildlife depletion, soil erosion and loss of fertility, and, recently, climate. There has been heated discussion regarding the “pristine myth” and the degree to which the environment of the Americas was or was not altered by the pre-European native people (Denevan 1992a, 2011).1 In contrast, much less attention has been given to recovery, or more appropriately a rebound of nature towards a prior condition, but not necessarily a full return (resilience) to what was before (Frazier 2010). Rebounding, past and present, has followed economic disruption, war, land degradation, weather and climate events, agricultural intensification resulting in abandonment of marginal land, reforestation and wildlife practices and policies, and depopulation from epidemics and other events (Hecht 2014). What happened to the environment of the Americas following Indian depopulation after 1492 is as significant as the widespread “humanization” (modification by humans) that preceded. Population and societies collapsed, farms were abandoned, hunting and burning were reduced, and forest and wildlife returned. This was an ecological transition, “an abrupt shift in systemic relations” (Boyd 1999, 20–21), which mostly continued into the nineteenth century and then was reversed. This essay considers the evidence for a rebound of I thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which have helped improve this paper. I am grateful to Charles C. Mann for early encouragement and for revising and providing the two maps. k DR.WILLIAM M. DENEVAN is the Carl O. Sauer Professor Emeritus of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706; []. Geographical Review 106 (3): 381–398, July 2016 Copyright © 2016 by the American Geographical Society of New Yor

nature after European arrival. This is not new research, but rather a literature survey and synthesis of some of what is known. In the classic geographic volumes on past environmental disruption a resurgence of nature is mentioned only briefly if at all (for example, Marsh 1864; Thomas 1956; Turner and others 1990; and Williams 2003). Recently there have been some discussions of past reforestation following demographic collapse. These include those in relation to the Earth’s carbon budget by paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman for Europe (2005); by geographer Robert Dull and others for the neotropics (2010); by anthropologists Kent Lightfoot and Rob Cuthrell for California (2015); and by geographers Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin regarding the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch (2015). Wildlife rebound in the western United States is documented by geographer William Preston (2002a), wildlife ecologist Charles Kay (1994, 2002), and writer Charles Mann (2005). Rebound following depopulation has been examined locally, such as at Chernobyl following nuclear accident (Weisman 2007) and regionally, such as in New England in the nineteenth century (Wessels 1997), but not on a continental level except in passing. The greatest bubonic plague (Black Death), 1346–1353, resulted in an estimated 60 percent decline of the European population, or about 50 million deaths (Benedictow 2004). Many but unknown numbers of farms were abandoned and must have reverted to wild vegetation, although some cropland was used to raise sheep or was obtained and farmed by landless peasants. Mann has roughly mapped the extent of deforestation in eastern North America before 1650 (Fig. 1), and then a considerable reforestation after 1650 (Fig. 2)(2011, 32, 33). For northwest Colombia, geographer Burton Gordon mapped general deforestation in the sixteenth century and reforestation in the eighteenth century (1957, 69). AWORLD WITHOUT PEOPLE Berkeley English professor George R. Stewart wrote novels such as Fire and Storm in which “elemental nature was the protagonist and human beings were secondary” (Brower 2010, 32). His nonfiction books include Names on the Land, Donner Pass, The California Trail, and U.S. 40. He was very much a geographer, a friend of Carl Sauer. In his 1949 novel Earth Abides, the hero, Ish, is a Berkeley graduate student in geography. His dissertation title is “The Ecology of the Black Creek Area,” Sauer being one of his professors. “Ish” (Isherwood) could be from Ishmael, the only survivor of the whaling ship Pequod in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a book Stewart lectured about. The Ish of Earth Abides is “The Last American” (Stewart 1949, 291; Willis 2006). The book has had a lasting influence, as reflected by this essay. Ish was doing fieldwork in the Sierra Nevada. He is bitten by a rattlesnake, and after he recovers and returns home in Oakland, he finds that most people there and elsewhere have died of a virus. He reflects, “During thousands of 382 GEOGRAPHICAL REVIE

years man had impressed himself upon the world. Now...What would happen to the world and its creatures without man?” (Stewart 1949, 29). He has immunity as result of the snakebite. Eventually he finds a few other survivors, and they form a small band. Over the years, the infrastructure of civilization gradually deteriorates. Electrical and water systems fail. They raid the gas stations, but then the gas runs out. So they ride horses. They break into supermarkets, but eventually the remaining food spoils. They are not technicians. They don’t even know how to farm. So they hunt cattle and sheep, which soon die off without proper human care, and then the band turns to shooting deer and antelope, which have greatly increased in number. Then they run out of bullets and don’t know how to make them. They fish and gather wild plants. Ish, who has access to all the knowledge in the great University of California Library, is unable to teach his group’s children and especially grandchildren how to read or much of anything else, as they are mainly interested in basic survival. Bears and wolves and mountain lions roam the streets of Berkeley and Oakland. Buildings decay. Vegetation encroaches. Farmlands become forest. Fifty years later, Ish has taught his grandchildren how to make and use the bow and arrow. They make arrowheads out of old pennies and nickels. Other surviving bands around the country fight over resources. In old age, Ish sits in the sun on a hillside in Oakland, watching San Francisco across the bay burn once again—”the dying patriarch of [what has become] a primitive tribe.” He wonders, “if it had not happened otherwise, he would [now] be Professor Emeritus,” presumably of geography (Stewart 1949, 287). A great story. Earth Abides was one of several human disaster/nature returns end-time narratives to come out of the 1950s and 1960s, some reflecting the widespread fear of a nuclear holocaust, such as Alas, Babylon (Frank 1959). Much earlier, in 1912, there had been The Scarlet Plague by Jack London (2010), in which the surviving hero happens to be an English professor at Berkeley. In recent years there has been a resurgence of postapocalyptic collapse and depopulation books and movies, such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006; see also Tucker 2008). Thus there has been an ongoing public interest in what happens to people and nature as result of catastrophic disaster. Attempts have been made to more systematically predict what the world would be like without people. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007) was a bestseller. He asked how and how rapidly would the works of humanity deteriorate and vanish and nature recover the world? The History Channel video, “Life After People,” in 2008–2010, presented in ten graphic episodes the deterioration of cities and the rebound of nature over thousands of years. And in 2008 National Geographic produced “Aftermath: Population Zero.” Most examples of past human collapse and environmental rebound are fictitious, speculation, anecdotal, or localized. However, we do have an excellent example for a large part of the world, and for which there were eyewitAFTER 1492: NATURE REBOUNDS 38

nesses, a partial historical record. This is the Western Hemisphere following the massive die off of Native Americans after 1492 as result of introduced Old World diseases especially but also war, brutality, and starvation. Recent estimates of the size of the Indian population of the Americas at the time of Columbus range from about forty to eighty million. By 1650, this had been reduced to only about five to six million, a decline of over 85 percent, even 100 percent or extinction in some regions (Denevan 1992b, xxix). As result, land was abandoned and forests recovered, hunting diminished and wildlife flourished. Human-set wildfires decreased. This was not universal of course. There was less environmental rebound where large Indian populations survived in the Andes and Mexico and where Europeans rapidly occupied vacant lands. FIG. 1—General distribution of deforestation by indigenous people before about 1650 in eastern and southeastern North America. Source: Mann 2011,p.32. Cartography by Nick Springer, based on paleoecological, archaeological, and historical information obtained by Mann and National Geographic (for details, see p. 533). 384 GEOGRAPHICAL REVIE

Rebounding continued until about 1850, by which time the numbers of Europeans and Africans had become substantial, cities and industry mushroomed, forests were recleared, and wildlife was decimated. However this reversal varied in degree geographically and was earlier in some regions. THE RETURN OF FORESTS2 In eastern North America, the dense forests nearly empty of people, the so-called wilderness reported by early travelers and settlers, were not at all empty in the sixteenth and early to mid-seventeenth centuries. They were well populated by Indians. The first descriptions of the coastal zones, if not the unviewed interior, are of open forests, uniform stands of pines, scrub thickets, FIG. 2—General distribution of deforestation and reforestation by both Indians and Europeans after about 1650. Source: Mann 2011,p.33. Cartography by Nick Springer, based mainly on historical information obtained by Mann and National Geographic (for details, see p. 533). AFTER 1492: NATURE REBOUNDS 38

and grassy meadows, easily traversed, likely the result of Indian clearing and burning: Verrazzano at Narragansett Bay in 1524; Captain John Smith at Chesapeake Bay in 1606; Thomas Morton in New England in 1627; Francis Higginson around the village of Boston in 1630; Andrew White along the Potomac in 1633; William Wood at Massachusetts Bay in 1634; and Edward Johnson in New England in 1654 (Cronon 1983; Williams 2003). Epidemics by the middle 1500s, in places sooner, decimated native populations, resulting in abandonment of villages and fields, with forest returning especially after 1650.In1535, Jacques Cartier found the St. Lawrence Valley well populated and under cultivation. However, when visited in 1603 by Samuel de Champlain, the valley was mostly woodland empty of people (Sauer 1980). Paleoecologists Paul and Hazel Delcourt (2004) examined changing vegetation patterns in the southeastern U.S. since the Pleistocene. On the coast and piedmont, Indian lands were abandoned in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and then reverted to cane breaks and forest. They believe that the forests the original settlers saw were secondary growth, contrary to popular opinion (see also Silver 1990; Hamel and Buckner 1998). There are numerous mentions from the late 1700s and the early to mid-1800s of mature forests in New England that were assumed to be wilderness. Settlers accepted this view, which was also promoted by romanticist and primitivist poets, writers, and painters (Bowden 1992). These intellectuals and the public they influenced were mostly unaware that the forests they knew had regrown since earlier Indian times. For example, the much-read novelist James Fenimore Cooper, from the 1820s through the 1840s, wrote about “interminable forest... trackless virgin forest... vast wilderness... virgin wilderness... the whole region east of the Mississippi [is] one vast expanse of woods... Not a tree disturbed even by redskin hand... but everything left in the ordering of the Lord” (quotes in Bowden 1992, 10–11). Naturalist William Bartram, traveling in the region of the Altamaha River in Georgia in 1773, commented on “the marvellous scenes of primitive nature, as yet unmodified by the hand of man” (1955, 65). In recent times, “scholars across the spectrum of academia [have fallen] easily into the error of equating the Puritan wilderness with a primeval forest” (Bowden 1992, 12). However, this view is changing (Denevan 2011). Stephen Pyne, the leading authority on the history of fire, says that, “almost wherever the European went [destroying the Indians], forests followed. The Great American Forest may be more a product of [European] settlement than a victim of it” (1982, 80). The late Oxford geographer Michael Williams, in his opus on the history of world forests, believed that North America generally was more forested, “less humanized,” in 1750 than in 1492 (2003, 28); also, “more heavily forested in 1800 than... in 1500” (Miller 2007, 57). California Indians lacked cultivation and didn’t clear forests; however, foraging for useful plants and wildlife affected vegetation patterns, and they 386 GEOGRAPHICAL REVIE

burned frequently which extended grasslands (Anderson 2005). The grasslands of the coastal ranges remained grasslands under livestock management by Euro-American settlers (Keeley 2002). In Latin America lowland forest resurgence following early colonial depopulation has been documented for Panama and western Colombia (Gordon 1957; Bennett 1968; Parsons 1975; Bush and Colinvaux 1994; Bray 1995). Vasco N u~ nez de Balboa and others described savannas in Panama, including Darie n, in the early 1500s. Soon after, much of this had reverted to forest (Sauer 1966). This sequence has recently been substantiated by phytolith analysis in eastern Panama (Martı  ́n, J. G., and others 2015). However large areas of abandoned fields, as well as savanna, were converted to livestock pasture, for example on Hispaniola (Sauer 1966) and in Veracruz, Mexico (Sluyter 1999). A recent pollen study of coastal El Salvador, the most densely populated and deforested sector of Central America in 1492 as well as today, indicates two periods of forest return. The first was following a great volcanic eruption in 430 AD and the second following European arrival in the sixteenth century, demonstrating that deforestation and forest return are not necessarily linear (Dull 2007). In Nicaragua there was probable replacement of fire-tolerant pine forest by mixed tropical forest following Indian decline and reduction of burning (Denevan 1961). In Brazil, the city of Sa ~o Paulo was established in 1561 in a treeless area, but within a few decades was surrounded by recovered forest following cessation of Indian burning (Holanda 1985). Andean cloud forests in Colombia were fragmented pre-1492 and have since returned containing surviving patches of cacao, avocado, and other economic plants. Such forests are “a product of human history” or “archaeological artifacts of the past” (Oyuela-Caycedo 2010, 88). In Amazonia, there may not have been much permanent pre-European deforestation. Stone axes are very inefficient for clearing forest. After 1492 they were rapidly replaced nearly everywhere by more efficient metal axes obtained from Europeans. This made shifting cultivation more feasible, meaning more deforestation, whereas previously cultivation was more permanent, meaning less deforestation. Much of the forest was and remained anthropogenic forest (Denevan 2001; Clement and others 2015). Likewise, in Yucata n reforestation is considered to have been related to the Classic Maya collapse. However, a good case has been made that most forest—up to 94 percent at El Pilar—persisted as an anthropogenic “forest garden” alternating with short fallow cultivated fields (Ford and Nigh 2015, 146). A returned forest may be indicative of resiliency. However such forest may well be different in both dramatic and subtle ways from the forest that preceded it. This is true of the forest in Yucatan which still retains residues of the former Mayan occupation in terms of the presence and frequency of useful species (Ford and Nigh 2015). In Amazonia today, segments are completely anthropogenic, consisting of clusters of palms, vine forest, bamboo patches, AFTER 1492: NATURE REBOUNDS 38

Brazil nut, and wild cacao. Much of the neotropical forest has unnatural species patterns, reflecting past Indian activity (Gordon 1982; Peters 2000; Rival 2002; Politis 2007; Bale e 2013; Clement and others 2015). Human disturbance can persist for centuries in tropical forest (Willis and others 2004). Secondary forest may contain greater biodiversity and more economic plants than the previous primary forest (Denevan and Padoch 1998; Bale e 2013; Ford and Nigh 2015). WILDLIFE IRRUPTIONS The wildlife story is as interesting if not more so. In North America eighteenthand nineteenth-century explorers and travelers described enormous numbers of animals, birds, and fish. The well-known great herds of buffalo, numbering in the millions, are only one example. Many believe that those numbers were natural, that they declined only under pressure from white hunters and from loss of habitat to farmers and livestock. However, that this abundance was pre-European is another myth. The probable explanation for such numbers is that the primary predator, the Indian, had largely been eliminated. There are good indications that Native Americans previously had kept wildlife numbers low. With depopulation and reduced hunting pressure, numbers of various species exploded along with their predators (Broughton 2002; Preston 2002a; James 2004). “Optimal-foraging models ... suggest that even relatively low native populations still had major impacts on high-ranking [favored] species” (Kay 2002, 244). The bison story is instructive. These beasts were the Indians’ most important resource, serving not only for food, but for clothing, blankets, tools, dwellings, utensils, rope and thread, shields, and weapons. They were killed with bows and arrows and with spears and were driven by fire into long funnel-shaped corrals, into rivers, and off of cliffs. Overkill was common, resulting in large bone piles, some of which still exist. When Indian numbers crashed, the buffalo numbers rose rapidly on the rich prairie grasslands, faster than carnivores could control them, although in time a balance of sorts might have been reached. Valerius Geist, in his book Buffalo Nation, points out that the abundance of bison on the Great Plains after Columbus “was almost certainly due to the decimation of a large portion of the Native North Americans’ population by Eurasian diseases that decreased human hunting of bison and allowed herds to flourish” (Geist 1996, 14; see also Sundstrom 1997). Easily hunted, the whites almost wiped out the buffalo in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, whereas Indians had almost wiped them out long before, and then they came back. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805–1806 found that east of the Rockies, where Indian populations had been depleted, buffalo and elk were plentiful, but to the west in the Columbia River and plateau regions Indians were still numerous and as result game was scarce: “Nothing to eate [sic] but dried roots [and] dried fish,” wrote Clark (quote in Martin and Szuter 2004, 71). 388 GEOGRAPHICAL REVIE

Large game animals had been depleted, and their bones are “rarely encountered in late pre-European archaeological sites in the Rocky mountains... the Great Basin, the Columbian Plateau, the Southwest, the Northwest, British Columbia, the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, and the American Plains” (Preston 2002b, 95; also Kay 1994). The first upswing in dated game bones occurs in some of these areas after 1492 and before Euro-American settlement, the proto-historic period (postcontact, but predocumentation) of considerable Indian decline.3 The explosion of passenger pigeon numbers apparently resulted from declining Indian numbers, but was also due to the increase of food sources, both acorns, previously consumed by both Indians and game animals, and grain from cultivated settler fields. They “did not become abundant until after European settlement began” (Neumann 1985; 2002, 171; also Mann 2005, 315–318). Charles Kay and William Preston have presented compelling evidence for pre-European wildlife depletion and then recovery of large ungulates in parts of North America (Kay 1994; Preston 2002a). Thomas Vale, a critic of the “Pristine Myth” article, tends to agree with the “aboriginal overkill” thesis, but he correctly believes that the situation was complex, multicasual, and not universal (2002, 27). The situation indeed varied. Indian hunters in some areas allowed for recovery by resting hunting zones intentionally or as result of shifting villages because of game depletion or for other reasons such as warfare. With habitat modification, specific species can either increase or decrease. Forest clearing created an edge effect for food for desirable game such as deer, and burning favored the more edible forages for herbivores. Thus pre-1492 animal numbers in some places increased and their range increased. The pre-European artificial openings east of the Mississippi probably extended the range of the bison eastward, their numbers there increasing for a time with Indian depopulation and then decreasing to near zero with reforestation (Rostlund 1960). In Latin America, the impact of pre-1492 Indians on wildlife was also catastrophic. For pre-European Amazonia, the numbers of the annual game kill is an estimated eighty-five million (Denevan 2007). Where there were large Indian populations, most large wild animals became rare or locally extinct. In central Mexico, the early Spaniards reported that there was no large game left and that the commoners in a state of semistarvation ate any living thing they could catch (Cook and Borah 1979). Even small numbers of people, as today, can deplete game. In Amazonia, a single hunter-gatherer family can quickly reduce (kill or scare away) large game in an area of hundreds of square kilometers around their camp (Denevan 2007). Overall, however, game increased with Indian depopulation except near surviving settlements. CALIFORNIA WILDLIFE Studies of pre-European midden deposits of animal bones (mammals, fish, shell fish, birds) at San Francisco Bay, Sacramento Valley, White Mountain, Pit AFTER 1492: NATURE REBOUNDS 38

River, San Clemente Island, and California and Oregon coasts show that for over 700 years there was a steady reduction of bones of favored food species, which is attributed to consumption by an increasing Indian population (Broughton 1999, 2002; Hildebrandt and Jones 2002). Broughton examined 24,000 stratified bones from the enormous Emeryville midden between Berkeley and Oakland. California Indians numbered an estimated 310,000 in 1769 based on Spanish mission data, 100,000 in 1850, and only 30,000 by 1870 (Cook 1976; Preston 2002a). Wildlife numbers recovered rapidly and were a major food in the early Spanish missions and settlements. A strong case has been made by Preston that in California severe game depletion prior to 1492 resulted in human depopulation (1996, 2002b). Analyses of human skeletons over time in Southern California indicate progressive nutritional stress as evidenced by increased disease and reduced height. Also, there are indications of increasing interpersonal violence, as evidenced by increasing skeletal trauma suggesting increasing competition for declining resources (Broughton 2002). However, if the late-prehistoric California population had become stressed because of wildlife depletion, why didn’t they take up cultivation? They probably did increase their management and use of wild plants. This suggests a scenario of a declining prehistoric human population from an unknown peak because of progressive game depletion. After 1492, the decline of Indians accelerated from introduced epidemics accompanied by game recovery that was then reversed by the mid-nineteenth century. Preston argues convincingly that before the first Spanish settlement with Gaspar de Portolain1769 there must have been spread of European diseases from Mexico and from early maritime exploration and the Manila galleon trade (1996, 2002b). The resulting depopulation and the apparent pre-1492 human decline combined to result in a wildlife rebound by the late-sixteenth century. This is indicated by archaeological excavation (Preston 2002a). Large-game numbers are also supported by accounts from the early explorers of California: Francis Drake in 1579, Pedro de Unamuno in 1587, Sebastian Cerme~ no in 1595, and Sebastian Vizcaı  ́no in 1602 (Preston 2002a). Drake said that “infinite was the company of very large and fat Deere [sic, probably elk], which there we sawe [sic] by thousands” (quote in Heizer 1974, 92). There are few further descriptions of wildlife until the beginning of Spanish settlement and missions. Miguel Costan o saw “many herds of antelope crossing the plain”; Francisco Pal ou reported a “band of fifty [deer] in this place”; Pedro Fages observed “whole troops of bears ... an abundance of all species in this sea ... many herds of antelope, some of them exceeding fifty” (quotes in Preston 2002b, 94). All of these men were with Portola . By the 1830s and 1840s, there are numerous travelers’ accounts of great numbers of large game. For example: “The variety [and abundance] of game in this country almost exceeds belief” [Charles Wilkes]; “At times we saw bands of elk, deer, and antelope in such numbers that they actually darkened the 390 GEOGRAPHICAL REVIE

plains for miles” [E. Bosqui]; the shore of San Francisco Bay “appeared covered with black sheets due to the great quantity of otters which were there” [Jose Fernandez]; “The wild geese, and every species of waterfowl darkened the surface of every bay... in flocks of millions. When disturbed, they arose to fly, [and] the sound of their wings was like that of distant thunder” [George Yount]; the animals of California “seem to have lost their fear and become familiar with man” [Frederick Beechey] (quotes in Broughton 2002, 44–45). Also reported were: otter “in groups of several hundreds together” [Yount]; marine resources “excited visitors with their abundance and size” [Richard Dana]; “395 elk, 148 deer” slaughtered in one month [John Work]; “it was not unusual to see fifty or sixty [bears] in twenty-four hours” [Yount] (quotes in Preston 2002a, 113). Such descriptions are numerous, with possibly some exaggeration at times but nevertheless impressive (Burcham 1957; Preston 2002a). “It appears that the magnitude and spatial dispersal of inland wildlife was nothing short of spectacular according to nearly every [early] narrative, journal, or report” (Preston 2002a, 114). Yount, a perceptive traveler who visited San Francisco Bay in 1833, noted that: “The rivers were literally crowded with salmon, which, since the pestilence had swept away the Indians, no one disturbed” (quote in Broughton 2002, 45; italics in the original). Few others recognized this relationship until recently. Scholars such as geographer Levi Burcham (1957) assumed that the late-colonial animal abundance was also prehistoric (Preston 2002a). By the mid-eighteenth century, Indian populations had partly recovered as disease resistance was acquired and as wildlife expanded. During the mission period, 1769–1848, the Indian population further declined and wildlife flourished. Both rapidly declined following the California Gold Rush in 1849. Thus there is an indication of a waxing and waning of the native population corresponding with and causing the waxing and waning of the wildlife population, possibly over several cycles. (The same of course occurs with natural wildlife populations as the numbers of predators rise and fall as their prey numbers rise and fall.) “That native peoples in the West, including California, existed in relative equilibrium and harmony with their game resources is a common place [false] assumption” (Preston 2002b, 94). In California, pre-European Indians did not cultivate domesticated crops. Historians, archaeologists, and others have believed that the high densities of wildlife reported in the early-nineteenth century had made large Indian populations possible and cultivation unnecessary and that game populations were maintained by conservation management practices that assured sustained sources of food (Baumhoff 1963; Preston 2002a). Broughton in particular has put this belief to rest. It may well be that the pre-1492 human population was never as great as it was in the early mission period or that if it was greater it was in a state of decline by 1492 because of game overkill including local extinctions. AFTER 1492: NATURE REBOUNDS 39

Elsewhere in North America, the situation was quite different from California. Most pre-European Native Americans were productive farmers, and crops could replace depleted game and fish. Maize and beans, the usual staples, provided protein, given reduction of animal protein from hunting. However, the Plains tribes, after depopulation from disease and the resulting explosion of buffalo and antelope numbers, and with the acquisition of horses, became more dependent on game and less dependent on cultivation and even abandoned cultivation. Likewise, in Amazonia groups such as the Guaja apparently became more dependent on plentiful game rather than cultivation (“agricultural regression”) following native depopulation and wildlife recovery (Cormier 2006; Bale e 2013). DISCUSSION George Stewart and other fiction writers have long anticipated nature rebounding after depopulation and land abandonment. This study has examined what actually happened in a large part of the world after 1492. As a follow-up to the myth that the pre-Columbian Americas were mostly pristine, another common and connected myth or misconception is considered here, that the impressive forests described by observers in North America and elsewhere, circa 1650–1850, were also mostly “primeval wilderness.” However, that wilderness was actually nature on the rebound. In addition, reports of large numbers of mammals, birds, and aquatic life led naturalists, anthropologists, and others to the belief that Indians had arrived at a balance with their wildlife resources–the “ecological Indian” (Krech 1999; Hames 2007; Harkin and Lewis 2007). Instead, before 1492 wildlife was depleted, but then returned in abundance with Indian depopulation. Such decline and rebound of hunted game had impacts on other wildlife and also on vegetation (Kay 1994). The argument for widespread prehistoric deforestation and thinning and game depletion is largely based on firsthand observations made soon after 1492 (Denevan 1992a). There is some physical evidence such as the decline of bones of game animals in middens. Pollen analysis can indicate changing forest patterns, however these can result from climate change as well as human disturbance. Much more paleoecological research (plant and animal remains, pollen and phytoliths) needs to be carried out on the transitional period, pre-1492/ post-1492, in conjunction with the archaeological and historical evidence. Abandoned Indian lands did not all rebound in vegetation and wildlife. Large areas were filled in with European crops and livestock: horses, sheep, cattle, pigs. Various Old World biota moved in (Crosby 1972). Rebound varied spatially, temporally, and in character. And nature did not necessarily revert back to either its pre-European or pre-Native American states. Rebound took place rapidly after 1492, including in areas where epidemics spread well ahead of the Europeans. However, the areas around the new towns, mines, and missions remained open or were soon deforested. 392 GEOGRAPHICAL REVIE

A large reduction in Indian numbers resulted in the return of forests and wildlife; however, even a few people can have an impact. Single forest or grassland ignitions can result in burns that last for many days covering large areas. Human impacts continued within plant and animal rebound. Surviving Indians were still able to increase their vegetation resources by management techniques that included burning, dispersal, and protection (Anderson 2005). There are proposals that Indians today should be allowed to use their traditional practices in order to preserve biodiversity and wildlife numbers. Instead, the harmonious picture of stability and large amounts of fauna after 1492 reflects reduced Indian population numbers as much as a sustainability ethic. We cannot assume that plant and animal patterns in protected areas today prevailed in the past. It is now recognized by ecologists that contrary to stability, there has always been natural biotic change due to climatic change and other factors. Now we are accepting that there also was widespread environmental change due to human activity. However, it is not always easy to differentiate natural causation from human causation. And both can occur together or in different directions. Rebounding, and biotic succession generally, can result in novel states, but with system relationships and ecosystem services persisting (resilience).4 Rebounded nature may or may not continue to be anthropogenic in part in terms of species present and their distribution. There may be similar, greater, or lesser biodiversity, a major concern today.5 The future may well be, outside (hopefully) substantial protected areas, one mostly of people and their works integrated with regrowth or introduced vegetation and persistent wildlife—the “new conservation” or “eco-pragmatism” (Kareiva and others 2011; Marris 2011); or “sustaining nonhuman nature in an anthropogenic biosphere” (Ellis 2015, 318); or “a society of nature” (Hecht and others 2014, 1); with much of so-called wilderness acknowledged as being Aldo Leopold’s “a relative condition,” or the “relative wild” of Curt Meine (2015, 91; italics in the original). However, this approach—hardly new—is, understandably, disturbing to many traditional conservationists and others concerned with loss of biodiversity, such as Michael Soule: “inestimable harm to humankind” (2013, 896).6 The much discussed question remains, what kind of landscapes do we prefer to preserve and/or restore, the rebounded ones of circa 1492–1850 AD, the humanized Indian ones before 1492, the pre-human Ice Age ones of 20,000 BP, or something else? All were constantly changing. Whatever nature we desire, to either leave alone or to manage to varying degrees, we need to better understand past natural and human processes involved in creating and in modifying environments. Earth abides, nature proceeds whether we are present or not; however, where we have been our mark may long persist, but may not be obvious.

Mentioned Resources

William M. Denevan faculty webpage
And more articles by Dr. Denevan are listed at the ResearchGate website
Denevan, W. M. (1992). The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 82(3), 369–385.
Denevan, W. M. (2007). Pre-European Human Impacts on Tropical Lowland Environments. In W. M. Denevan, The Physical Geography of South America. Oxford University Press.
Denevan, W. M. (2011). The “Pristine Myth” Revisited. Geographical Review, 101(4), 576–591.
Denevan, W. M. (2016). After 1492: Nature Rebounds. Geographical Review, 106(3), 381–398.
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