War zones and game sinks in Lewis and Clark's west

Ps. Martin et Cr. Szuter, War zones and game sinks in Lewis and Clark's west, CONSER BIOL, 13(1), 1999, pp. 36-45
Citations number
Categorie Soggetti
Journal title
ISSN journal
0888-8892 → ACNP
Year of publication
36 - 45
SICI code
The journals of Lewis and Clark reveal a major difference in the taxa, numb ers, and behavior of megafauna on either side of the Rocky Mountains in wes tern North America Two prior events set the stage for what Lewis and Clark would find. The first was the extinction around 13,000 years ago of two-thi rds of the native megafauna of the American West The second was the effects on Indians of deadly new diseases and new technologies brought by European s in the post-Columbian era. Populations of large animals which were prefer red prey for native people, were not immune to European influence. Along th e Columbia River corridor west of the Rockies, tens of thousands of people lived in a game sink. Here Lewis and Clark's party found too few animals to live off the land by hunting They adapted poorly to the local diet of fish and roots offered by the Net Perce and bought dogs and horses to sustain t hemselves. To the east, uninhabited lands along the Upper Missouri and the Yellowstone rivers supported an abundance of wild game especially bison, el k, deer, pronghorn, and wolves. This game source occupied part of a buffer zone of 120,000 km(2) probed by various Indian war parties, some of them ar med with muskets. William Clark recognized the relationship and near the en d of their journey he wrote that they found large numbers of large animals in the land between nations that were at war Both the abundance of game in buffer or war zones and scarcity of big game in sinks have been misinterpre ted as a natural or typical condition. Although efforts to restore ecosyste ms to what is described in early journals may have merit, they are aimed at a flickering target. Long before these journals were written, the land had been stripped of most of its native megafauna th;through human influence. In the absence of humans, we predict that much larger populations of bison, elk, deer, and wolves would have ranged the West than were reported in his toric documents.