Announcing the People, Fire, and Pine Research Project

Jeff Altschul, Co-President, Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis

Terry Klein, Acting Executive Director, Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis

We wanted to alert Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) members about a recent publication from the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS)-sponsored People, Fire, and Pine Research Project.  The Society for Historical Archaeology is a CfAS Partner.

Evan R. Larson, Kurt F. Kipfmueller & Lane B. Johnson (2020): People, Fire, and Pine: Linking Human Agency and Landscape in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Beyond, Annals of the American Association of Geographers,

DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2020.1768042

Abstract: The creation and modification of landscape patterns through interactions among people and the environment is a defining focus in the discipline of geography. Here, we contribute to that tradition by placing 500 years of red pine (Pinus resinosa) tree-ring data in the context of archaeological, ethnographic, and paleoecological records to describe patterns of Anishinaabeg land use and fire occurrence in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) of northern Minnesota. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that stories of people, fire, and red pine are tightly interwoven in the BWCAW. We suggest that preferential use and maintenance of specific sites with fire by Border Lakes Anishinaabeg before 1900 led to the xerification of forest communities that produced conditions more desirable to people in a rugged nearboreal landscape. Today, after a century of fire absence, these sites represent fading ecological legacies that are still sought by wilderness users for their recreational values and perceived wilderness character. Ironically, protections granted by the 1964 Wilderness Act are resulting in a decline of the red pine forests once used to help justify establishment of the BWCAW. An opportunity exists for wilderness managers, users, and advocacy groups to reassess the need for active management and the strategic return of frequent fire to the aging pine forests of the BWCAW. Engaging descendent communities of the Border Lakes Anishinaabeg in these efforts could help move beyond conventional approaches to wilderness management and restore the reciprocal relationship between people, fire, and red pine in the BWCAW and beyond.

A key objective of the People, Fire, and Pine research team is to meld scientific approaches and traditional knowledge systems into new fire management policies for Wilderness areas. But their objectives extend well beyond forest policy and management to core issues involved in the displacement and disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples from their native lands and culture and the initial steps toward healing the social consequences of these actions. As Larson and his colleagues argue:

Active management in the BWCAW would provide a case study that could be replicated elsewhere to advance conversations around ecological wilderness management while helping to create a more complete understanding of the definition of wilderness itself. Clearly, wilderness as untrammeled is an overgeneralized and inappropriate definition that disregards vital connections between people and place. In the BWCAW, these connections have existed for centuries at minimum and were moderated by fire to create important patterns of ecological diversity within the broader landscape mosaic. This critique is not new to the field of geography, and rarely does this core idea of the 1964 Wilderness Act dictate all management decisions, but it does hold sway in the general perspective of many and must be addressed. Wilderness management must continue to be refined to more explicitly recognize the role of people in creating the pre–European American landscapes of North America, the value of local and traditional knowledge in understanding ecological change, and the fundamental importance of engaging both Western and traditional knowledge systems to ensure that sustainable approaches to management are employed. This is a complex issue infused with concerns around ecological health, remnants of colonialism, and social justice. The BWCAW is a quintessential wilderness landscape that is now enriched with data directly and quantitively linking Anishinaabe land use with some of the most appreciated aspects of forest structure and composition within the protected area. An ideal opportunity exists for managers to authentically engage in shared stewardship with local Indigenous communities to promote cultural exchange, healing, and movement beyond dated ideas of wilderness.

To read the article, follow this link. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

The People, Fire, and Pines project is schedule to be completed at the end of 2020.

For information on the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis, and to become a CfAS Partner or Associate, go to:



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