People, Fire, and Pine: Linking Human Agency and Landscape in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Beyond

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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 near-boreal 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Volume111
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

Keywords

  • Anishinaabe
  • Minnesota
  • Pinus resinosa
  • fire history
  • wilderness

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