It would be great if ecosystem managers could bring Indians in to help with Traditional Ecological Knowledge to maintain meadows w/ fire. Grazing could be helpful too, because volunteers get worn out doing everything by hand. Long story short: noble firs on Mary’s Peak, relict population from more widespread extent during cold post-glacial times, are invading the meadows on the peak (no more grazing + fire suppression; climate is more conducive now because less snow). So firs are being manually removed and will be hand weeded in future. Otherwise, the biodiversity of the meadows would give way to thick forests. Trees will remain in the historically forested zone. We’ll still have a nice view, native plants will be happy.
Here are three of the many things I learned in my first two Oregon Master Naturalist Willamette Valley ecoregion classes (well, it’s hard to stick to just 3, and also it has been more than a week since my last post, but it’s just the end of this week so I’m sliding in):
1. Even with a long cultural history of death and devastation, people still find ways to work in useful, collaborative ways to move life forward
This is the second time I have been to a fascinating talk by a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. David G. Lewis, PhD, Tribal Museum Curator/Cultural Liaison, shared a lot of information about how the tribes of western Oregon lived on the land.
The story of white settlement in North America is always a sad one. What would become western Oregon held 60 tribes and tribal bands during the pre-settlement period. There were around 100 languages spoken in Oregon when whites began to settle here.
In the mid-1800’s Indian leaders saw that they had no chance of keeping their traditional hunting and harvesting lands, and requested that they be allowed to live on a reserve “between the forks of the Santiam River”. Whites refused to give them their chosen place, and the Indians refused to leave. During the stalemate no treaty was ratified, but eventually a treaty was negotiated by Joel Palmer (a local historical personage in whose mansion in the town of Dayton, an upscale gourmet restaurant currently resides).
There are lots of interesting details about the treaties and subsequent ramifications, but what sticks in the mind is this: under 7 different treaties, all the Indians in the valley were removed in 1855-56 because they were in the way of full exploitation of the land by whites. This was a “trail of tears” march for those from southern Oregon especially, separating them from the land and their source of food and shelter, in the winter, when people were most vulnerable to starvation and sickness, which of course, happened.
The area ceded to the U.S. government comprised more than 14 million acres. In return, the Indians received 61,440 acres. All tribes were lumped together on a small area down the road from us where Highway 18 cuts through the coast range – the Grand Ronde reservation. Through a series of events, including the sale of some land by individual Indians, and “surplussing” (read: stolen a second time) of 30,000 acres by the US government, the tribes eventually were left with no property whatsoever. As late as 1954 (when the confederated tribes owned 400 acres of land) all treaties and tribal status and rights were TERMINATED by the US government, essentially wiping out what remained of a community and culture base. In 1983 the tribes owned about 11 acres of forest land and 7 acres with a grave yard on it. Finally in the 1980’s, congress had what David called a “change of heart” – tribal restoration occurred, including restoration of 9811 acres of land.
The good news: currently the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community own 11,000-12,000 acres of valley floor and upland timber property. There are several staff positions devoted to cultural affairs, heritage education, and archeological preservation. The tribes are planning a museum and David is working with many government agencies all over the state to restore and bring life back to the streams and traditional harvesting grounds on public and private property as well as tribal lands. The Confederated Tribes just received 100 acres of land purchased and donated by several US agencies and the Nature Conservancy, and more land is being acquired to manage for conservation.
In many places in the world, this history would fuel a long-simmering guerrilla war against the dominant group and government. In this case, Indians have embraced relationships that benefit everyone and although the process is long and complicated, it is moving on positive paths. We can learn a lot from their example.
2. Wildlife see landscapes differently than humans do
Our next speaker was Dave Vesely, a wildlife ecologist who has trained dogs to sniff out endangered plants, among other species. He recounted a story to illustrate item #2.
He was asked to look at an open meadow to document how many dark-eyed juncos were using it. He discovered that the birds, which forage on the ground, were actually avoiding this meadow that had been created for them. They were in the trees and shrubs around the meadow instead. This particular habitat was not being used by these birds because the grass was too long. Juncos forage in the open, and they couldn’t see their surroundings or even penetrate the tall grass.
His conclusion: “habitat type” is an ecological unit classified by vegetation and/or abiotic features. However, classification can get in the way of understanding how wildlife actually use habitat. We have to understand how wildlife view habitat to get the results we want. Harder than you might think, AND it’s more than just plants.
3. Geology is everywhere
At Silver Falls State Park we had a great time looking at the geology around us and learning about how it shaped the Pacific Northwest. We learned that all you have to do to see rocks and learn about geology is walk around – the gravel in parking lots, the stones in buildings, and any number of everyday elements tell the story of local geology.
We enjoyed looking at these beautiful stone buildings constructed during the depression by the CCC. The walls were constructed of blocks of fossiliferous sandstone (sedimentary rocks that hold fossils created when the Willamette Valley was a shallow sea, or embayment). Rocks in the low wall to the right of the steps our instructors are standing on are 25-million-year-old volcanic tuff (cemented volcanic particles and rocks). The steps are younger basalt from Columbia basalt lava flows that began15 million years ago. All were quarried locally in the park.
The falls cascade over three visible flows of Columbia basalt, separated by thin layers of paleosols (old or fossil soils) – accumulated in the time between lava flows. It’s a Columbia Gorge in miniature, complete with amazing water falls and enormously tall trees.
- Geologic processes create landforms
- soil weathers from rocks with different chemical composition
- vegetation is product of those soils and landforms.
The temperature was comfortable and the air moist, up here in the trees and cool gorges – when the valley was baking in the upper 80’s – and it can all be explained by big GEOLOGY.
On Land Management and “Wilderness”
Many species in our savanna and woodland ecosystem are dependent on disturbance (e.g. fire, digging) for survival and reproduction.
Every spring, thousands of tiny lily seedlings come up as thick as grass. In the past they would have been tended by Indian harvesters, digging and replanting as appropriate. Our camas lilies are shaded by a stand of oaks that is too thick. Traditionally burning would have kept the small trees, brush, and grass thinned, and people would have dug and moved the bulbs of lilies like camas and Dichelostemma sp. (Brodiaea sp.), reducing competition so the bulbs could grow larger.
These days, there is a lot of nonnative grass overtopping the native grass and plants, and burning would be one way to improve the condition of our savanna. This is problematic when you have neighbors, though, and very expensive to contain in one small area.
To get a perspective on just how prevalent Indian land management was, it is instructive to read M. Kat Anderson’s eye-opening Tending the Wild, Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources (University of Ca Press, paperback ed 2006). The title of my post is taken from the introduction. Thanks to Dean, our mentor at the Yamhill Conservation District for telling me about this resource.
Here are some excerpts from Tending the Wild that challenged my notions of America before Europeans:
“John Muir, celebrated environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club, was an early proponent of the view that the California landscape was a pristine wilderness before the arrival of Europeans. Staring in awe at the lengthy vistas of his beloved Yosemite Valley, or the extensive beds of golden and purple flowers in the Central Valley, Muir was eyeing what were really the fertile seed, bulb, and greens gathering grounds of the Miwok and Yokuts Indians, kept open and productive by centuries of carefully planned indigenous burning, harvesting, and seed scattering.”
“California Indians did not distinguish between managed land and wild land as we do today… Interestingly, contemporary Indians often use the word wilderness as a negative label for land that has not been taken care of by humans for a long time…’The white man sure ruined this country,’ said James Rust, a Southern Sierra Miwok elder. ‘It’s turned back to wilderness’ (pers.comm. 1989). California Indians believe that when humans are gone from an area long enough, they lose the practical knowledge about correct interaction, and the plants and animals retreat spiritually from the earth or hide from humans. When intimate interaction ceases, the continuity of knowledge, passed down through generations, is broken, and the land becomes ‘wilderness’.”
“The first European explorers, American trappers, and Spanish missionaries entering California painted an image of the state as a wild Eden providing plentiful nourishment to its native inhabitants without sweat or toil. But in actuality, the productive and diverse landscapes of California were in part the outcome of sophisticated and complex harvesting and management practices…
Through coppicing, pruning, harrowing, sowing, weeding, burning, digging, thinning, and selective harvesting, they encouraged desired characteristics of individual plants, increased populations of useful plants, and altered the structures and compositions of plant communities.”
An often-cited passage from the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition concerns a field of Camas lilies they thought resembled the blue water of a lake from a distance. The profound effects of Indian management of the land is expressed in the observation above that these practices altered the structure and composition of plant communities (and animal communities as well) – these attributes are what ecologists measure; the species composition defines an ecosystem at a basic level. Healthy, diverse systems provide the ecosystem services we all depend on. Therefore the fabric of the ecosystem (structure, composition) directly affects function.
For example, Anderson notes that all this management had the effect of increasing biodiversity and abundance. The absence of management has impoverished biological communities.
“Edible butterflies and moths, which were harvested in the larval and pupal stages, included the whitelined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata)…, and the pandora moth (Colorado pandora)…According to Western Mono elders, the pandora moth…used to be common on the west side of the Sierra Madre but now it is rare…Many Indians recalled that the tortoise-shell butterfly was common in chaparral (Ceanothus cuneatus) areas…and would come every year. It is now seen once every decade or so, and in some areas I has not been sighted for forty years.”
Indian familiarity with the biological world was deep and complex:
“The genus Arctostaphylos [manzanita] has a reputation among taxonomists as being difficult to identify at the species level. Not only do manzanita species hybridize readily in areas where distinct species overlap, but there are more than fifty recognized species in the genus in California. Yet this did not prevent the Miwok from encoding the differences in separate names for each type that occurred in their territory. The Karuk in extreme northwestern California identified at least four type of manzanitas in their territory.”
Anderson documents that this level of detail extended to location, soil and microclimate, and to timing of harvest based on when a plant was most suitable for a particular purpose. She cites others who have found this to be true:
“…[anthropologist A.L.] Kroeber’s 1939 field notes…record that the Yurok of northwestern California practiced burning at a frequency that was appropriate for each cultural purpose: burning of hazelnut for basketry occurred every two years; burning under the tan oaks to keep the brush down took place every three years; burning for elk feed occurred every fourth or fifth year; burning in the redwoods for brush and downed fuel control occurred every three to five years.”
Although Anderson’s book is based on her PhD research in California, much of the information on plants and management practices also applies to the Willamette Valley. The savanna and woodland landscape was maintained through the inland valleys of Oregon and southwestern Washington, the Puget Basin, to the tip of Vancouver Island (see range map of Oregon white oak in the sidebar information on the “about oaks” page of this site). Here is some information about Willamette Valley people:
About the Kalapuya in the Willamette Valley
Kalapuya people say “We have always been here.” For many thousands of years before the onset of Euro-American settlement, the Kalapuya were the largest Indian group in what is now called western Oregon. It is estimated that Kalapuya people numbered 15,000 at the time of Euro-American contact. The traditional Kalapuya territory encompassed most of the Willamette Valley, from present day Oregon City in the north to Yoncalla, in the Upper Umpqua valley. There were 13 distinct groups of Kalapuya people, speaking three dialects of the Kalapuyan language.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, the Kalapuya were not nomadic. The people lived in permanent villages of wooden plank-framed houses which were located throughout the region. Temporary shelters of wood and brush were constructed at fishing and hunting sites. Dugout canoes were used to navigate rivers and streams, facilitating transportation and food gathering.
The Kalapuya were hunters of large and small game, subsisting on deer and elk, supplemented by a variety of fish. Time-tested plant gathering techniques provided a balanced diet for the people. The camas lily was a vital food – bulbs were roasted in stone-lined ovens and pressed into cakes for winter use. These camas-flour cakes also were used as trade items.
When the first explorers entered the Willamette Valley, they witnessed a yearly burning of sections of the valley floor by the Kalapuya. This was done to maintain grasslands, to concentrate game in certain areas, and also to roast seeds of the wild sunflower. These seeds were a food resource, and yielded oil for ceremonial use. Early settlers saw field burning as a dangerous practice and it was banned by the time the Kalapuya were removed to reservations in the mid-1800s. As a consequence, brush and weeds quickly encroached on farmland, and grasshopper infestations destroyed crops. [bloggers note: grasshoppers in the fields were eaten by the Kalapuya after being roasted in the fires they set]
Shortly after 1850 the United States government began a treaty process with the Kalapuya people. The unratified treaty of 1855 ultimately removed most of the Kalapuya to reservations at Grand Ronde and Siletz, opening up the Willamette Valley to occupation by settlers.
Diseases carried by Euro-Americans soon decimated the Kalapuya population. Many died of smallpox, malaria and scrofula, an illness related to tuberculosis. But the Kalapuya have not vanished. Today, an estimated 300 to 400 Kalapuya remain, many of whom uphold the age-old culture and tradition of the ancestors.
SOURCE: Nearby Nature website http://www.nearbynature.org/parks/talking-stones accessed June 16, 2010.