Caleb Worner wrote:
5) I disagree with Paul’s argument (as I understand it) that non-natives are better suited to your area because they flourish there, or maybe that natives are less suited to the area than species from other regions. Paul could go deeper into that I’m sure and he only dropped one sentence to defend his point. To be fair, though, comparing the suitability of species to an area based on its relative aggressiveness is a bit like comparing the suitability of housecats to north American forest ecosystems based on them being more numerous and widespread than bobcats.
paul wheaton wrote:
Myth: Native plants are better suited to your area
If this were true, why do we have any concern over non-native plants threatening native plants?
Patrick Kniesler wrote:
paul wheaton wrote:
Myth: Native plants are better suited to your area
If this were true, why do we have any concern over non-native plants threatening native plants?
What if the concern is non-native plants threatening native fauna?
I am interested in what you would say in reply to the notion that a number of non-native plants (this number is unknown to me, as is the when of these plants) are devoid of interaction with insects. This talk covers the topic.
The idea that would become the foundation of this book - that indigenous people's stewardship of the land carries important lessons for us in the modern world - germinated in my mind as I stood in a Mexican farmer's fields in summer 1983. The farmer was using the land quite intensively, yet much of the natural plant and animal diversity remained. All these farming techniques were starting to catch among organic farmers in the United States and to be taught in the new field of agroecology at American universities - and they all had roots in the farming methods of the indigenous people of this and other regions.
I became determined to find out and decided to focus my graduate studies in Wildland Resource Science at the university of California, Berkeley, on what I had become to call the "indigenous resource management" practised by the first people of California. I spent many months over a 7 years period, 1986-92 ...
The more elders I talked with, the more I appreciated the importance of what I was learning. I was excited to hear their descriptions of the old ways of relating to nature, especially the management techniques (e.g. burning, pruning, tilling, weeding, and selective harvesting) that they had learned from their parents, grand-parents and that they were still practising today.
Several important insights were revealed to me as I talked with elders and accompanied them on plant gathering walks. The first of these was that one gains respect for nature by using it judiciously. By using a plant or an animal, interacting with it where it leaves, and tying your well-being to its existance, you can be intimate with it and understand it. The elders challenged the notion I had grown up with, that one should respect nature by leaving it alone - by showing me that we learn respect through the demands put on us by the great responsability of using a plant or an animal.
Many elders I interviewed said thatplants do better when they gather them. At first it was a jarring idea - I had been taught that native plants were here long before humans and did best on their own without human interference - but it soon became clear to me that my native teachers were giving me another crucial gift of insight. Californian indians had established a middle ground between the extremes of over-exploiting nature and leaving it alone, seeing themselves as having the complementary roles of user, protector and steward of the natural world. I had been reading about how various animals' interactions with plant populations actually benefited those plants (grizzly, scrub jay...) and it seemed plausible that the many generations of humans in California's past had played a similar role. If it was true that plants did better with our help, it meant that there was a place for us in nature.
About halfway into the years of fieldwork, I began to ask native elders "Why are many plants and animals disappearing?" Their answers, which always pinned the blame on the absence of human interaction with a plant or an animal, began to add up to a third major insight: not only do plants benefit from human use, but some may actually depend on humans using them. Human tending of certain California native plants had been so repetitive and long-term that the plants might very well have become adapted to moderate human disturbance. The idea had a very practical corollary: the conservation of endangered species and the restauration of historic ecosystems might require the reintroduction of careful human stewardship rather than simple hand-off preservation. In other words, reestablishing the ecological association between people and nature might be appropriate in certain areas.
These parallels indicated to me that our human forebears everywhere did not just passively gather food and basketry materials but actively tended the plant and animal populations on which they relied. There was no clear-cut distinction between hunter-gatherers and the more "advanced" agricultural peoples of the ancient world.
Now that this book is being published, I hope that greater understanding of the stewardship legacy left us by California indians will foster a paradigm shift in our thinking about the state's past. In this way, human use can become integrated into conservation and restauration work. We desperately need to foster a new vision of human-nature relationships and the place of humans in the natural world.
They achieved an intimacy with nature unmatched by the modern-day wilderness guide, trained field botanist, or applied ecologist.
The first European explorers 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.
California indians protected and tended favored plant species and habitats, harvested plant and animal products at carefully worked out frequencies and intensities, and practiced an array of horticultural techniques.
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. These harvest and management practices, on the whole, allowed for sustainable harvest of plants over centuries.
They so thoroughly tested nature's responses to human harvesting and tending that they discovered how to use nature in a way that provided them with a relatively secure existence while allowing for the maximum diversity of other species. This relationship represented a middleway, a calculated tempered use of nature.
The term hunter-gatherer connote a hand to mouth existance. It implies that California indian dug tubers, plucked berries, and foraged for greens in random fashion, never staying in any one place long enough to leave lasting human imprints. But they had a profound influence on many diverse landscapes.
Without an indian presence, the european explorers would have encontered a less spectacular land, and habitats that are disappearing today might not have existed in the first place.
Through 12.000 or more years of existence of what is now California, humans knit themselves to nature through their vast knowledge base and practical experience. In the process, they maintained, enhanced, and in part created a fertility that was eventually to be exploited by european and asian farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs, who imagined themselves to have built civilization out of an unpeopled wilderness. The concept of California as unspoiled, raw, uninhabited nature - as wilderness - erased the indigenous cultures and their histories from the land and dispossessed them of their enduring legacy of tremendous biological wealth. As the environmental historian William Cronon notes, "The removal of indians to create an 'uninhabited wilderness' - uninhabited as never before in the human history of the place - reminds us just how invented, just how constructed, the American wilderness really is."
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 Central Valley, Muir was eying 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.
Of course there were some places that had little or no intervention from native peoples. The subalpine forests, the drier desert regions, the lower salt marsh areas, do not burn readily, nor do they support large numbers of economically useful plants.
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. A common sentiment among California indians is that a hands-off approach to nature has promoted feral landscapes that are inhospitable to life. They 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 rich knowledge of how nature works and how to judiciously harvest and steward its plants and animals without destroying them was hard-earned ; it was the product of keen observation, patience, experimentation, and long-term relationships with plants and animals.
That is not to say that all actions of California's indigenous people proved positive. It is reasonable to assume that the people migrating into what is now California more than 10.000 years ago undoubtedly experienced a learning curve, apprising the limits to resource use and then adjusting their harvesting and management from the lessons learned about how to steward nature for future generations.
In general, accounts of the impact of native people on the land have been skewed in two almost contradictory ways. In some cases, these impacts are simply assumed to be negative. The possibility of beneficial influences, such as enhancing the numbers and diversity of other species, is seldom considered.
Then there is the old view that the popultion levels of indians in California were so low, and their technologies so unadvanced that they had little or no impact on wild nature. Another version of this stance is the idea of the "conservation-minded indian" put forth by some environmentalists. The shallow image of the conservation-minded indian who hardly uses, let alone influences nature and feels guilty about breaking a branch is perhaps based on a romantic notion stemming from Euro-Americans longings to have those same tendencies rather than on serious research into indigenous lifeways. California Indians have never advocated leaving nature alone.
Learning about the ways in which the indigenous people of California appropriated plants and animals for cultural uses while allowing them to flourish can help us to change the ways in which we interact with nature today. Following the indigenous example, we can begin to see the possibility of becoming part of localized food webs once again, being full participants in nature, and restoring and reinhabitating damaged lands.
Since the 1850's, at least 20 animal species and 34 plant species native to the state have gone extinct. Although extinction is a natural process, modern humans have driven the rate of extinctions today to about 100 times the natural rate. Dwindling biodiversity is linked to contemporary land uses, which cause degradation, fragmentation, and outright loss of habitat.
A primary way that we have responded to the loss of biodiversity is by setting aside land and protecting it from virtually all human influences.
Much of what we consider wilderness today was in fact shaped by indian burning, harvesting, tilling, pruning, sowing, and tending. This fact suggests an alternative way of conserving the lands: manage them by applying the traditional ecological knowledge and traditional resource management practices of California's indigenous peoples.
Although setting aside areas of wilderness is still absolutely necessary given our population numbers, there are compelling reasons to protect, restore, and manage some "wild" lands by following a model other than the hands-off wilderness model.
The cultures of the indigenous people of California are rooted in a belief that nature has an inherent ability to renew itself. But native peoples also believe that renewal cannot happen in the absence of appropriate human behavior toward nature.
Finding ways to use and live in the natural world without destroying its renewal capacity is one of the major challenges facing modern-day Californians, just as it was for the people who migrated here more than 10.000 years ago.
Because no one today gathers wild plants or hunt animals for all of his or her personal needs, it is difficult for us - even those of us who are secure in the wilderness - to realize the depth of knowledge required to comfortably stay alive in aboriginal California. Indigenous plant and animal gathering was carried out under an intricate system that took into account life-forms, species, plant properties, environmental site criteria, cultural uses, and strategies of cultivation. When combined, the levels of ethnobiological knowledge became exceedingly complex. Only by following the daily routine of a Hupa fisherman, a yokuts saltgrass collector, a yahi hunter, or a kumeyaay weaver would we begin to fully appreciate the keen memory, knowledge of reproductive biology, attention to environmental cues, and mimicking of animal behavior that was practiced by harvesters to live directly from the land.
Timing of plant harvesting to reap the maximum benefits from plant growth with a minimum of animal or pathogen competition was critical. Memory, therefore, had to be long and accurate, and observation keen. Timing the harvesting of plants and animals to reap the maximum benefits added another dimension to the complexity of native people's knowledge.
The seeds of many types of plants had to be picked within a week of ripening or they would be lost to the gatherer.
In native California societies, gathering and hunting knowledge was not just a set of facts to be memorized and mecanically followed in the daily harvesting rounds but rather was tied to a comprehensive cultural framework of values, beliefs, and behaviors that clearly defined the place of humans in the natural world. To an extent that it is difficult for a non indian to appreciate, nature and culture were closely entwined and interlocking. Knowledge of plants and animals informed culture, and culture shaped the way in which this knowledge was employed.
Most tribes had legends that vividly told of the consequences that would befall humans if they took nature for granted or violated natural laws.
They were unified by a fundamental ethic: one must interact respectfully with nature and coexist with all life-forms. The spiritual dimension of this ethic is a cosmology that casts humans as part of the natural system, closely related to all life-forms. In this vision of the world, nature is not to be treated as a separate entity "out there" that you do not touch or interact with. Homo sapiens are full participants in nature, and they share mutual obligations and intricate interactions with many other forms of life.
Trusting that respect and understanding would come through relationship, native people believed that animals could become familiar with, even grow accustomed to, the ways of homo sapiens.
In "ecologies of the heart", the ethnobiologist Eugene Anderson writes "A properly socialised individual had a powerful sense that the wild world was feeding him, and he ought to be as grateful and as anxious to act decently as he would to any human who fed him out of sheer kindness."
Native people reconciled the killing of their plant and animal kin by following certain rules when hunting and gathering (e.g., do not waste or over-harvest) and believed that the necessary sacrifice of some creatures is made for the good of all creatures. "The killing and eating of other beings is understood by most tribal peoples as a part of a larger gift of life rather than a victory over nature" (Paul Shepard).
Recognizing the impact of killing other creatures for food, California indians were careful to manage habitats to benefit the plants and animals not taken.
Native people's movements were also keyed to seasonal cycles. At each elevation was a seasonal camp, used when the annual cycles of ripening and population movements yielded abundant resources there. Early anthropologists mistook these movements for a nomadic life, but in actuality indigenous people migrated seasonally within a home territory.
The cyclical departures and return of wildlife were so predictable that they could have extinghuished large numbers of animals. Yet for the most part they did not, having learned that yearly abundance could be ensured by working with nature instead of taking advantage of it.
According to various narratives, humans were given specific instructions through the spirit world to protect the earth's self-replenishing character.
Chapter 3 - The collision of worlds -
The explorers entering California from the 16th through the 19th century rarely saw it as it was, a land carefully tended by large population of people with remarkable and diverse cultures, but instead saw the landscapes and its inhabitants through lenses distorted by western ignorance, prejudice, and greed.
The colonizers variously saw California as a foreboding wilderness, a place to do God's work, a giant un tapped storehouse of wealth, and a place of raw, unspoiled beauty. Although these conceptions varied, they were consistent in two ways: they ignored the essential humanity of the natve inhabitants, and they failed to account for the changes in the landscape these people had wrought for millennia. When European explorers made their first contacts with indigenous peoples in the Americas, they saw them as wild, inferior beings, wandering aimlessly over the country, not subject to the order and routine of civilization. This was the only way Europeans could understand cultures vastly different from their own because their worldview so resolutely dualistic.
The conservation movement
In the early 1900s, a "widespread turning to nature" had begun to grow omong the urban middle class, as its members became aware that the natural resourses of the state, thought to be limitless during the gold rush, were in fact very limited and even seriously threatened.
For most part, the conservationists did not understand how California Indians, over centuries, had influenced the animals, plants and landscapes and maintained the land's fertility.
Galen Clark, guardian of the Yosemite grant for many years, saw the link between the valley's beauty and its stewardship by its longtime residents. His was a lone voice in pointing out that it was under the care of the Indians, and he argued that non-indians could learn much from the indigenous people.
Romanticizing nature and the noble savage.
The perception that California was a primeval wilderness free of human influence has its roots in this period of California history. By the 18th century, wilderness areas in Europe had come to be viewed as places for self-renewal, where one could escape the life of the cities for the tranquillity and purity of nature.
Muir and those with similar views responded to the destruction and explotation of California's natural resources with a preservationist ethic that valued nature above all else but which defined nature as that which was free of human influence. Thus while he championed the setting aside of parks as public land, Muir also contributed to the modern notion that the indigenous inhabitants of the state had no role in shaping its natural attributes.
Muir longed to experience the wilderness of raw nature; the utility of the biota did not interest him. Yet more than once he faced starvation when food supplies from civilization did not arrive on time to his shepard outpost in the Sierra Nevada wilderness. Muir showed admiration for the native peoples' knowledge of ethnobotany, but he prefered the society of squirrels to that of indians and never seriously considered the possibilities for wilderness living offered by California Indian ways.
Muir's view of California nature was a necessary counterweight to the view that had prevailed before - that nature was there to be exploited - but it left us with a schizophrenic approach to the natural world: humans either conquer nature and destroy its integrity, or they visit it as an outsider, idealizing its beauty and largely leaving it alone. These seemingly contradictory attitude, to idealize nature or to commodify it, are really two sides of the same coin, what the restauration ecologist William Jordan terms the "coin of alienation". Both positions treat nature as an abstraction, separate from humans and not understood, not real.
The rapid decline of animal and plant life spurred the enactment of numerous government laws and quotas designed to enforce restraint. Legally discouraging humans from overharvesting specific areas or species and making certain lands off-limits to most human activities were necessary compromises.
Wilderness preservation, a concept perhaps unique to western culture, is necessary given our burgeonning population, but setting aside wilderness is only a reaction to the plundering of natural resources, and both spring from a mind-set of alienation from nature. Moreover, the wilderness concept tends to compartmentalize nature and culture, giving humans the illusion that activities done outside of protected areas will not affect what is within.
Perhaps indigenous people can offer us a way to really find our home in California by helping us to locate a middle ground between exploiting and degrading the environment on one hand and insulating it from all human influences on the other. By understanding the ways that native people established long-term relationships with the land and its creatures, we may be able to forge a new kind of relationship with nature, based on connection, that carries with it both obligations and privileges, what Californian Indians would call reciprocity.
Reestablishing relationships with the earth
Although passive preservation may have its place in conservation, the biggest challenge for the human species is to find ways to use nature without destroying it. This means moving "beyond preservation", as William Jordan ad other authors advocate, by creating a real working relationship with the landscape.
Native elders repeatedly remind non-indians that we will not learn to live compatibly with nature simply by locking up lands in large tracts of restored wilderness. With them, one learns that indigenous people achieve deeper intimacy with nature by using it.
Although natre and culture are most profoundly united through the harvesting of plants and the hunting of animals, use is a double-edged sword. Once humans harvest nature there is the possibility of overuse. Removing key elements from nature means the possibility of ecological degradation, but it can also lead to deeper understanding and awareness of nature's processes and limits. Removing elements from natural systems with thoughtfulness and respect, one finds oneself asking questions that address the complex interplay between resource production and the conservation of biological diversity.
Judiciously harvesting, crafting, and using products from nature continue to be the three cornerstones that keep Indian relationship with nature alive, rich and sustainable. In traditional cultures, there are connections between the plant growing in its environment, its creative transformation into useful items, and the use itself. Today we have taken these three connected practices and made them into the distinct realm of science, industry, and private life.
The postmodern world's disconnection from nature causes us to tend to think about human-nature interactions in terms of the two diametrically opposed extremes discussed earlier, leaving nature alone or destroying it. In between there is a continuum of resource-utilization systems involving a wide variety of techniques and varied ideas about nature and about human relationships with it.
paul wheaton wrote:
one person managing 20,000 acres vs. 2000 people managing ten acres
I've heard that the majestic russian olive tree is no longer allowed to be sold in montana. There is concern that it is displacing native plants. My impression is that it is growing in places that are nearly devoid of any plant life and it basically creates an oasis so other plants (including natives) can get started.
I have talked to three plant experts who are certain that it is good to put russian olive on the noxious list, but I never did understand what they said was the downside - other than "it is not a native plant." I talked to six other plant experts and they seemed to also be confused.
But my thinking goes like this: It is a tree. If you don't like it, a chainsaw will fix your problem.
This makes me think that there are some people that are powerful advocates of native plants *AND* they own 20,000 acres *AND* they have paid some enormous amount of money to cut down the russian olives (because they are not native) and the russian olive trees come back. So, naturally, they want to make sure there are no russian olive trees growing within a hundred miles so that they might possibly be able to reduce their non-native-tree-cutting-budget.
After all, if you are one person with ten acres and you don't like russian olive trees, you can cut them down pretty quickly. You can use the wood for firewood, or to make a hugelkultur for other plants.
So if a person has ten acres, and they like russian olive trees, why is it that they are not allowed to buy a russian olive tree? It is an excellent permaculture tree. The only thing I can think of is this whole thing about owning 20,000 acres and advocating native plants only.
You could append this quote, “I use 100% native plants in my designs, all of them are native to planet earth”. Bill Mollison
C. Letellier wrote:The catch with keeping them away from water is that there is virtually no tree that is more mobile. Under any place birds roost to eat withing about 1/2 a mile of a mature russian olive will sprout new trees.(trees, brush, fences and fence posts, power lines and so on) I have cottonwoods that are 100 yards from the nearest mature russian olive. In the late fall when the migrating birds are feeding on the olives the ground within about 50 feet of the base of each cottonwood is so covered in russian olives seeds that you can't hardly put a hand down without hitting 3 or 4 seeds. In a year that the moisture and temperature is right there will be 50 to 100 russian olive sprouts around the cottonwoods. So between seeding hundreds of pounds of seeds per year per tree, long seed viability and birds as a vector to move it great distances especially to water(other trees to roost in while birds eating) they are hard to control. Which is why they have been declared a noxious weed in WY. They were literally wiping out whole ecosystems. Mature trees taller than them survive but they don't get new trees started so the next generation won't happen because the olives choke them out. The first year seedlings are easy to pull but by midway thru the second year even a strong man will have trouble pulling them so it is very easy for them to get ahead. If they are growing in a hay field that is being cut yearly the seedling will mostly just keep regrowing as long as you don't kill the root. But then if you pasture for a couple of years without destroying seedlings suddenly you have a small forest. And cutting them down is mostly wasted effort because even a small bit of live root will regrow the tree. In this environment I don't know any tree that regrows faster. ...you know why they have been declared a weed. I am in one of the first drainages in WY that they tried to clean up. Mostly got it cleaned up in the initial battle but they are on the ragged edge of losing the regrowth battle.
For permies acceptable control the best bet is to graze goats around the mature trees to clear out the understory of thorns to make cutting the tree down less painful. Cut it down and then high intensity graze the area till you get them killed off.(probably 10 to 20 years of hard grazing not missing a single year.)
Another amazing one is how long the roots can still poke back up. Cut the tree down and treat the stump with the proper herbicide to prevent regrowth. 2 years later with no regrowth engage in mechanical tillage of the roots and some of those roots will still sprout new trees.