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Native American and Effects

The Kelsey article provided discusses “Native American impacts on the fire regimes of the California coastal ranges” and the other article submitted for review by Erlandson and others deals with “Human impacts on ancient shellfish” (that is their size) over 10,000 years in the area of San Miguel Island, California. Both studies carefully considered, but then ruled out natural causes as the primary reason to explain these environmental changes..

Kelsey(2002;305) debunks the theory that lightning strikes accounted for the fire density, whereas Erlandson et al (2007;2148) discusses why they concluded that, although they lacked the scientific knowledge to understand why, the Indians must have discovered that burning the natural scrubland vegetation for grassland provided them with a myriad of short term benefits. Also extensive fishing off San Miguel Island, particularly in the last 200 years, has not only depleted the stock of most shellfish, but their size and therefore health as well.

The study through archaeology of pre-Columbian human-environmental relationships can aid significantly in the interpretation of modern environmental changes and patterns for the following reasons. First, one can see patterns of evolution over a long period of time. Secondly, because one is further removed both in time and place, one can more easily identify variables not readily discernible if study is limited only to the situation at hand.

Unfortunately in the study of social sciences, unlike in the physical sciences, the researcher cannot manipulate the variables one by one as in a laboratory chemical experiment, and very soon observe the effects of such manipulations, and then come to conclusions accordingly. In social and environmental studies the laboratory in a sense is the world and obviously one cannot manipulate certain aspects of this while controlling other ones.

One can only take the environment tat exists in front of them and compare and contrast it to other environments and by a process of elimination qualitatively decide which factors, whether natural or man made are dominant and can account for the similarities and differences. Furthermore, if a researcher limits his study only to the immediate event, he may not anticipate environmental issues in time to take effective remedial action. For example when a valued fish species becomes almost extinct, it may be too late too replenish it or to deal with other ramifications because of food chain implications.

Thus the study of pre-Columbian human-environmental relationships along with current ones aids in the interpretation of modern patterns because the more patterns studied the more likely the researcher can identify the real causes of environmental change. For example, both the Indian tribes of San Miguel and modern Californians heavily fished the area but the recent consequences are more devastating. Why? Erlandson et al (2007;2181) suggest this may be due to the current concentration on the larger sized fish, the opposite of what the Indians did.

This could have implications for the food chain and the eco system in general. In conclusion, I submit researchers must take a macro approach both to the study of environmental problem solutions and to accurately identifying causes, that is, one must study the eco system as a whole to ensure that solving one problem does not cause another, and to comparatively study as many environments as possible to accurately determine real causative factors.

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