Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

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jamesrobertsmith
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Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Tue Oct 18, 2011 9:57 pm

This was an interesting article.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 153955.htm

Especially in light of the idea that the mini-Ice Age in Europe could have been caused by the rapid depopulation of North America (European diseases introduced by Columbus and company) that allowed forests to re-grow in vast areas that became absent of meddling humans.

Joe

Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by Joe » Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:45 am

jamesrobertsmith wrote:This was an interesting article.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 153955.htm

Especially in light of the idea that the mini-Ice Age in Europe could have been caused by the rapid depopulation of North America (European diseases introduced by Columbus and company) that allowed forests to re-grow in vast areas that became absent of meddling humans.
James, what's the logic that the depopulation of N. America could have contributed to that mini-ice age?

I know the book "1491" suggests that the forests were "managed" by the Indians, but I suspect the forests, most of them, looked pretty wild and very mature- so depopulation shouldn't have had much effect on the total C sequestration by the forests.

If anything, the depopulation occured during rapid deforestation by the pale faces.

When it comes to climate, kinda hard to figure out what causes what- too dam many variables. Certainly, the more people, the worse EVERYTHING gets.

Joe

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jamesrobertsmith
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Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Wed Oct 19, 2011 5:14 pm

One huge misconception about the human population in the New World before the Europeans arrived is that there weren't many people in North and South America. There were many tens of millions of them. While they were pre-industrial, they could (and did) vastly change the ecosystems. Witness their wholesale destruction of most of the megafauna of the Americas--they wiped out the mammoth, the mastodon, the giant ground sloth, horses, etc.

In addition, they cleared vast swaths of land. Their methods were varied but involved girdling trees and also burning down huge forest tracts. There is some record of an enormous burn in Kentucky, from what I've read.

At any rate, in short order after the arrival of Europeans and their diseases, you have a human population crash; and cities, towns, farms are suddenly vacant. The forests return, drawing out carbon from the atmosphere. It does not take a forest long to obliterate what Man has built. Witness the dozens of all-but-invisible ghost towns scattered about West Virginia that faded as recently as the 1950s and which are now all but invisible in the forests that absorbed them.

Europeans did not get down to the serious business of deforestation in North America until the 1800s. The Appalachians had most of their virgin forests intact until the late 1800s.

Indian tribes were human beings--despite the popular misconception of the noble savage living in harmony with nature, they could be every bit as rapacious on the environment as any other group of people. South American Indians changed entire ecosystems burning trees to make charcoal to convert limestone into cement to build their cities. Maybe they didn't have iron, but they had an awful lot of time to alter the face of the Americas. It wasn't all forests from coast to coast. The Americas were partitioned into many nations, and each of those nations had farms and cities with all sorts of buildings. They did indeed clear the land where they could.

Joe

Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by Joe » Thu Oct 20, 2011 6:26 am

James, what you discuss is the theme of that book, "1491" but I believe a lot of people don't follow him all the way to that conclusion. I suspect the truth is somewhere between what he says and what people used to believe. After all, it's difficult to sustain a population of tens of millions with the level of technology they had. The theme of "1491" is still just a theory. The author is not a professional historian, archeologist or anthropologist. I've read the boook twice and enjoyed it but I remain skeptical. As for the Indians being a "noble savage"- certainly they'd exploit the environment to the extent they could but with just stone tools and fire you can do only so much. And, since they didn't have the concept of "property rights"- the idea of ruthless exploitation for profit never came to them- if they ruthlessly exploited the nearby environment, I suspect they understood that doing so would hurt themselves. The theory that the Indians wiped out the Paleolithic Megafauna is just that- a theory. Certainlly they hunted the big animals but I find it hard to believe that stone age people could wipe out a continent's big animals. Their hunting contributed to the loss of those species but rapid climate change was probably the primary factor. Regarding all of these theories- I don't claim any expertise- but I do observie that there is as of now no proof of the "1491" theme.
Joe

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dbhguru
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Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by dbhguru » Thu Oct 20, 2011 9:49 am

Robert,

Joe is basically on the money. Here are some things for us to think about. The level of indigenous populations is contested, as is the scale on which they utilized fire. The big question turns to the relative impacts on the land of a person today versus back then. We don't always factor in the average life span of indigenous peoples across the Americas. There is certainly no reason to believe it was uniform. the percentage of time a person spends as an adult affects his/her impact on the land - I would think. In addition, where evidence of past land occupation is high, such as the mid-west and southwest, the occupation is scattered over a time scale of 11,000 years or more. All those people weren't present at the same time. This isn't to say that Native Americans didn't have a pronounced influence on the vegetation along rivers and in fertile valleys, but their impacts were concentrated in some areas and low in others.

Harvard Forest has done research on soil-based charcoal indicative of the use of fire by Native Americans in central Massachusetts and found the levels much lower than expected. This flies in the face of assertions made by authors such as Tom Bonnicksen in his book on the 'Ancient Forests of North America'. Bonnicksen is a self-styled expert on the forests of present and past with a clear bias toward managing everything. According to Bonnicksen, Native Americans repeatedly burned virtually everything. But the tale of the soil disputes this at least in the areas studied by Harvard Forest.

I agree with you that indigenous populations were seldom the conservationists that they are made out to be. Still, many indigenous societies had sacred areas and concepts about conserving species that kept relatively large regions untouched or minimally used, especially the mountainous areas. I witnessed this over the years as a consequence of being able to directly observe Native American culture, courtesy of my former wife Jani. She was an elder, and through her, I got to attend events and meet and come to know people, whom otherwise, I would have had no access to.

The loss of the megafauna has a partially climatic change explanation. But bear in mind, while archeologists, anthropologists, etc. are sorting all this out and batting theories back and forth, those among us who want to equate the impacts of modern-day Americans with that of people 2,000 years ago are getting away with being loose with the evidence. Those folks have an agenda. They would justify our profligate behavior by making the case that past societies did basically the same as we are doing. So everything has been heavily managed for 11,000 years or more. Some Native peoples buy into this scam for understandable reasons. They want to emphasize the level of destruction of their society by Europeans, so they are sympathetic to accounts of millions of indigenous peoples being killed by white man war, diseases, and exploitation.

The best numbers I have seen for the Americas north of Mexico suggest 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 at any one time. The numbers in Mexico, Central, and South America were substantially greater, but whether they reached 100,000,000 at any given time is pure speculation. At the best, it is science at the margin - people playing very loose with numbers.

What kinds of population densities could we expect over all for the Americas north of Mexico? Well, some quick calculations will shed light on the question. If we allow for the 12,000,000 indigenous folks and throw in another 2,000,000 just for the heck of it and then spread the 14 million over 7.4 million square miles (U.S. and Canada), we get a population density of around 1.9 people per square mile. Some of those would have been children. If we allow for the adults to make up half the total, we have approximately one adult per square mile. That adult employed stone-aged tools and fire to impact the land. Today we have around 47 people per square mile, each with an infinitely greater capacity to adversely impact the land.

The timber industry has been especially loose with the fact when it comes to discussing indigenous impacts relative to our own. There are few parallels. I recall talking to an old Algonquin canoe maker in Quebec back in the mid-1990s. He bemoaned the fact that he could no longer find paper birch large enough to make his canoes. Rapacious logging was stripping the forests of mature birch. His people had used birch for centuries and now modern European Americans were using it, albeit for very different purposes, and destroying it as a functioning species beyond very young ages. The two uses are not equivalent in any sense, yet the exploiters make the argument that its is all the same.

Of course, I know that you understand this. Still, it is good for all of us to remind ourselves about the relative scale of human impacts. What we do today to the land stands far more in contrast than comparison to what indigenous people did in the past. Yet, I could make a list of resource specialists, who in their public pronouncements, equate the two impacts. This drives both of us crazy, and rightly it should.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

Joe

Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by Joe » Thu Oct 20, 2011 11:15 am

BTW, the author of "1491" now has a new book, "1493" which I will order soon and after I read it, I'll follow up in this thread.
Joe

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jamesrobertsmith
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Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Fri Oct 21, 2011 6:24 pm

When I was a kid and and accustomed to walking through the forests and fields looking for Indian artifacts, we'd find them EVERYWHERE. You couldn't put your foot down in some areas without finding something--arrowheads, spear points, atl-atls, pottery shards, flint chips, scrapers, knives, etc. And even when I was just a kid following my dad around in these places it occurred to me HOW MANY people had been here before the Europeans arrived. They were all over the Southeast. Leaving middens almost anywhere you'd care to stick a spade in the ground.

I've read the arguments for and against large human populations in North and South America prior to the arrival of the Europeans and how many were wiped out by disease before the first European/Indian wars could be fought. And I come down on the side of the larger estimates. Just based on what I've seen in my travels since I was a kid following my dad and company hunting for artifacts. Or just stumbling upon places as we'd trek through the woods down here.

It took a lot of people to eat their ways across the length and breadth of two continents killing everything that couldn't adapt to them fast enough.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/scien ... todon.html

They were here killing the megafauna and, later, clearing the forests and planting fields. We base most of our knowledge of what Native Americans were doing on what we gleaned from seeing them AFTER the plagues had roared across the lands, killing them down to a nubbin of what they'd been.

Of course I could be wrong. I just hold to what evidence I've seen. It isn't dogma.

Joe

Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by Joe » Fri Oct 21, 2011 6:38 pm

No doubt the Indians had a field day, no pun intended, when they first entered North America to find immense heards of huge animals. I suspect the human population rose rapidly in this hunters' paradise. I've read that the big animals were just too stupid to realize the danger of humans- unlike the fauna of Africa that lived with humans and pre humans for millions of years. Yet, still--- the idea that the humans killed off such large, tough, aggressive animals is a stretch. The theory might be true but I still suspect a rapidly changing climate made it possible- with a stable climate, I doubt it could have happened that way. As of now, I don't think there is a consensus in the scientific community on this issue. For one thing, if the populations had gotten very large with tens of millions in North America, where is the archeological evidence of such large populations? You mention finding lots of artificats, but that stuff easily could represent thousands of years of very small populations. If very large numbers of people lived in an area for any amount of time, with food being so abundant, they would have had excess human energy - to build structures and there just aren't that many structures outside a few areas along the Mississipi.
Joe

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edfrank
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Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by edfrank » Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:02 pm

jamesrobertsmith wrote:When I was a kid and and accustomed to walking through the forests and fields looking for Indian artifacts, we'd find them EVERYWHERE. You couldn't put your foot down in some areas without finding something--arrowheads, spear points, atl-atls, pottery shards, flint chips, scrapers, knives, etc. And even when I was just a kid following my dad around in these places it occurred to me HOW MANY people had been here before the Europeans arrived. They were all over the Southeast. Leaving middens almost anywhere you'd care to stick a spade in the ground.
JRS,

I don't know about the populations prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers, but the presence of a fair number of artifacts doesn't prove there were large populations when you consider the time of inhabitation. Some of the massive shell midden/mounds in the Everglades covering acres of ground were not the product of large numbers if people, but through accumulation of a what likely was a small family group seasonally over a period of centuries.

Look at all of the beer cans you see in the woods. Most of them were deposited in the last thirty years. In a century at that same rate there would be 3 times as many beer cans. In a thousand years, there would be 30 times as many beer cans. In ten thousand years there would be 300 x the number of beer cans. Small rates over a large period of time can accumulate large numbers of artifacts. Many of the areas where they are found are are not their original location but where they have accumulated through erosional processes and therefore represent an anomalously high concentration of items.

Perhaps there were large numbers of natives prior to European arrival. Do any of you know if there are oral traditions from the early settlement period that talk of these vast numbers of people, or talk about massive die-offs from disease? If so that would would be evidence for great populations, or if they are not talked about, that would support the idea that there never were large numbers of native Americans.

I do firmly believe they are ultimately responsible for the extinction of the megafauna. They likely were stressed by changing climate, but might have survived as a remnant population if not for hunting pressure by the natives.

Ed

.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Rand
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Re: Hey! Another reason to plant more forests!

Post by Rand » Sat Oct 22, 2011 10:00 pm

PBS/Nova did an episode on this topic. They've got a page that gives on overview of the basic arguments that is probably worth a 5-10 minute read.
they also stand in four decidedly different camps regarding why America's rich complement of big beasts went extinct quite suddenly at the end of the Ice Age. The four camps are known tongue-in-cheek as "overkill," "overchill," "overill," and "overgrill" *:
Archeologist Gary Haynes, University of Nevada Reno, and others think that the continent's first human hunters, fresh from Siberia, killed the megafauna off as they colonized the newly discovered land.
Donald Grayson, an archeologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, along with colleague David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University, believes that climate changes at the end of the Pleistocene epoch triggered the collapse.
Mammalogist Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History has advanced the idea, with virologist Preston Marx, that a virulent "hyperdisease" brought by the first Americans might have raced through species with no natural immunity, bringing about their demise.
And, in the newest hypothesis advanced, geologist James Kennett, U.C. Santa Barbara, and colleagues propose that a comet impact or airburst over North America did it.
So why is the answer so elusive? As often happens in the paleosciences, it largely comes down to lack of empirical evidence, something all four hypotheses arguably suffer from. (There's a fifth hypothesis, actually—that a combination of overkill and overchill did it.)


http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/ ... easts.html

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