Lots of lightning and plenty of people: An ecological history of fire in the upland southwest

Edited by: Thomas R. Vale



Was the pre-European Southwest a region of wild landscapes, shaped primarily by natural processes like lightning-ignited fire, or did people substantially mold these lands into regional-scale artifacts through their use of fire and other means? Perspectives on this question have varied markedly through time and between scholars, as evident from the quotes interspersed through this chapter (see Box 5.1.). As the American frontier closed around the turn of the nineteenth century, lightning was rarely considered a primary cause of fire, with most fires in western forests assumed to be human-ignited. Native Americans were thought to have been the primary source of burning in the Southwest until EuroAmericans usurped that role after ca. 1850. Today, lightning-ignited fire is widely acknowledged to be an ancient and essential ecological process in the American Southwest (Pyne 1995a:282-283; Swetnam and Baisan 1996a; Bogan et al. 1998), for millennia structuring landscapes from low-elevation desert grasslands to montane forests. However, because the Southwest has been home to people for more than 12,000 years, with large human populations for over 1,000 years (Plog et al. 1988), some scholars continue to assert the dominance of aboriginal burning in the fire regimes of this region (Dobyns 1981; Pyne 1995a, 1996, 1997). This essay focuses on the roles of  

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Lots of lightning and plenty of people: An ecological history of fire in the upland southwest
Chapter 5
ISBN 9781559638890
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher Island Press
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 51 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Fire, native peoples, and the natural landscape
First page 143
Last page 193
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N