Originally Posted: August 1, 2018
On how the land was managed by Native Americans
One of the primary uses of fire on the landscape was to refresh the prairie. Bison was one of their prime prey and the center point for their economy, in terms of food, clothing, shelter and tools. Bison prefer to graze recently burned patches of prairie — it’s tastier, it’s more nutritious. And so they manipulated the location of bison herds by selectively burning patches of prairie, and one of the things they did for most of the last millennium is burn patches of prairie to lure bison into these parts of the landscape where they could be driven over cliffs and harvested en masse.
On how this management impacted the land
One of the consequences of this is that the burning by these native hunters ended up amplifying the impacts of climate variability on prairie fire activity. This comes about in part because these prairies require good, wet conditions to produce a lot of grass that can carry spreading fires. And the hunters had a pretty sophisticated system in which they used that knowledge to burn when climate conditions were right. And one of the consequences of that is that you ended up with even more fire during these wet periods than you would have otherwise because of the activities of these native hunters. LISTEN