Indigenous forest gardens still productive after 100 years

Chelsey Armstrong

…In the last few decades, archeologists have learned that perennial forest management—the creation and care of long-lived food-bearing shrubs and plants next to forests—was common among the Indigenous societies of North America’s northwestern coast. The forest gardens played a central role in the diet and stability of these cultures in the past, and now a new publication shows that they offer an example of a far more sustainable and biodiverse alternative to conventional agriculture.

This research, which was done in collaboration with the Tsm’syen and Coast Salish First Nations, shows that the gardens have become lasting hotspots of biodiversity, even 150 years after colonists forcibly removed the inhabitants from their villages. This work, combining archeology, botany, and ecology, is the first to systematically study the long-term ecological effects of Indigenous peoples’ land use in the region. The gardens offer ideas for farming practices that might restore, rather than deplete, local resources to create healthier, more resilient ecosystems…

By comparing the gardens to the neighboring forests, the researchers’ results clearly showed that the gardens had a much higher species and functional diversity. In addition, the gardens frequently showed a carefully overlapped structure, with a canopy of fruit and nut trees, a mid-layer of berries, and roots and herbs in the undergrowth. Thanks to the increased availability of fruit, nuts, and other edible plants, these places also supported local wildlife, such as moose, bears, and deer.

“There’s a kind of false dichotomy debate going on right now that biodiversity is at odds with food production, and what we see here is very clearly that it’s not,” said Armstrong. “Forest gardens are one of the examples of how you can get multiple species occupying multiple niche spaces—there are all sorts of ecological lessons there.”

We could compare cultural diversity if the Anglos moving into the region hadn’t decided it was in their best interest to remove the people who had been living there for centuries. Often by force.

That history is also part of this article.

2 thoughts on “Indigenous forest gardens still productive after 100 years

  1. p/s says:

    “Indigenous peoples were stewards of the Western Amazon : Study points to a history of indigenous sustainable use of the Western Amazon stretching back 5,000 years” (Smithsonian)
    “Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492” posits that when colonizers from Europe caused massive losses to Indigenous Amazonians with disease, slavery and warfare, the sudden interruption in landscape-scale manipulation resulted in so much forest regrowth that it caused a global drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide that brought about a climactic shift that is known as the “Little Ice Age …a “human-driven global impact on the Earth System in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution.”

    • Au contraire says:

      “Indigenous mortality following Spanish colonization did not always lead to forest regrowth” (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)
      A new study, published now in Nature Ecology and Evolution, draws on pollen records from tropical regions formerly claimed by the Spanish Empire in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, to test the significance and extent of forest regrowth following widespread mortality among Indigenous populations after European contact in the 15th and 16th centuries.
      “…Researchers have recently argued in a widely popularized paper that the drastic reduction in Indigenous populations, and the cessation of their land-use in many tropical parts of the Neotropics, led to a dramatic regrowth of forest. So significant was this ecological change, the paper argues, that these new trees captured enough carbon to cause a recognizable dip in global atmospheric CO2 levels. This global atmospheric change is not only implicated in the Little Ice Age that caused lakes to freeze over in Europe, but has also been suggested as a potential start date for the Anthropocene.”
      Non-uniform tropical forest responses to the ‘Columbian Exchange’ in the Neotropics and Asia-Pacific

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