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American West Natural History

United States West Coast: An Environmental History by Adam Sowards, series editor: Mark Stoll (Nature and Human Societies: ABC-CLIO) From Native people's skilled use of fire and plants to the California Gold Rush to ongoing efforts to provide Southern California with sufficient water, the North American West Coast has long been a region where humankind has nurtured, battled, and exploited the environment. This groundbreaking volume explores the interplay of ecology, economy, and culture throughout the history of this rich and abundant region, examining the ways its residents and their institutions both influence and are affected by the ecological systems in which they live.

United States West Coast covers the emergence of humans in the Pacific Northwest, the rise of European colonial trade networks, the era of industrialization and urbanization, and present-day Green movements and public-policy responses to environmental damage. By investigating how humans interact with their nonhuman surroundings across a specific expanse, United States West Coast shows the interdependent nature of the relationship between people and their environment.

The Nature and Human Societies series provides fascinating insights into how the natural world has been transformed by human civilization. Each volume focuses on a geographical region, highlighting the key trends in world environmental history that have helped shape human civilization. More than just a history of the environment, the series examines the decisive impact environmental factors have had on world affairs and the political trends that have influenced our impact on the natural world.

Long ago, only time and the elements shaped the face of the earth, the black abysses of the oceans, and the winds and blue welkin of heaven. As conti­nents floated on the mantle, they collided and threw up mountains or

drifted apart and made seas. Volcanoes built mountains out of fiery material from deep within the earth. Mountains and rivers of ice ground and gorged. Winds and waters sculpted and razed. Erosion buffered and salted the seas. The concert of living things created and balanced the gases of the air and moderated the earth's temperature.

The world is very different now. From the moment our ancestors emerged from the southern forests and grasslands to follow the melting glaciers or to cross the seas, all has changed. Today the universal force transforming the earth, the seas, and the air is for the first time a single form of life: we humans. We shape the world, sometimes for our purposes and often by accident. Where forests once towered, fertile fields or barren deserts or crowded cities now lie. Where the sun once warmed the heather, forests now shade the land. We exterminate one crea­ture only to bring another from across the globe to take its place. We pull down mountains and excavate craters and caverns; drain swamps and make lakes; di­vert, straighten, and stop rivers. From the highest winds to the deepest currents, the world teems with chemical concoctions that only we can brew. Even the very climate warms from our activity.

And as we work our will upon the land, as we grasp the things around us to fashion them into instruments of our survival, our social relations, and our creativ­ity, we find in turn our lives and even our individual and collective destinies shaped and given direction by natural forces, some controlled, some uncontrolled, and some unleashed. What is more, uniquely among the creatures, we come to know and love the places where we live. For us, the world has always abounded with unseen life and manifest meaning. Invisible beings have hidden in springs, in mountains, in groves, in the quiet sky and the thunder of the clouds, in the deep waters. Places of beauty from magnificent mountains to small, winding brooks have captured our imaginations and our affection. We have perceived a mind like our own, but greater, designing, creating, and guiding the universe around us.

The authors of the books in this series endeavor to tell the remarkable epic of the intertwined fates of humanity and the natural world. It is a story only now coming to be fully known. Although traditional historians have told the drama of men and women of the past, for more than three decades now, many historians have added the natural world as a third actor. Environmental history by that name emerged in the 1970s in the United States. Historians quickly took an interest and created a professional society, the American Society for Environmental History, and a professional journal, now called Environmental History. U.S. environmental history flourished and attracted foreign scholars. By 1990 the international dimen­sions were clear; European scholars joined together to create the European Society for Environmental History in 2001, with its journal, Environment and History. A Latin American and Caribbean Society for Environmental History should not be far behind. With an abundant and growing literature of world environmental his­tory now available, a true world environmental history can appear.

This series is organized geographically into regions determined as much as possible by environmental and ecological factors, and secondarily by historical and historiographical boundaries. Befitting the vast environmental historical literature on the United States, four volumes tell the stories of the North, the South, the Plains and Mountain West, and the Pacific Coast. Other volumes trace the environmental histories of Canada and Alaska, Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean region, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Australia and Oceania. Authors from around the globe, experts in the various regions, have written these volumes, al­most all of which are the first to convey the complete environmental history of their subjects. Each author has, as much as possible, written the twin stories of the human influence on the land and of the land's manifold influences on its human occupants. Every volume contains a narrative analysis of a region along with a body of reference material. This series constitutes the most complete en­vironmental history of the globe ever assembled, chronicling the astonishing tragedies and triumphs of the human transformation of the earth.

Adam Sowards: I grew up on a small farm at the edge of the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Marysville, Washington, about forty miles north of Seattle. It was not a large farm; indeed, by the time I arrived in the early 1970s, it did not provide our

family's main income. Nevertheless, I could not help but be imprinted by the place. I have come to believe it is why I became an environmental historian. Al­though I certainly did not recognize it at the time, that small farm and its neigh­borhood exemplified many elements of the region's environmental history.

Perhaps a century or more ago, the land remained covered by forest. It is conceivable that the local Native population stripped cedar bark from trees on the land and fished salmon from the small creek that coursed through the trees. Then came loggers and railroads, a combination that meant forests turned to lumber for local markets. As they did in so many places in North America, farmers set about converting the cutover land into productive farms. Indeed, early in the twentieth century that patch of land became the first dairy farm owned and operated by Tulalips. This transformation to farming marked the first significant change in land use since the last ice age.

For the better part of the twentieth century, successive farmers planted some crops but mostly raised domestic animals. My own family raised chickens for a commercial laying flock and replacement heifers for nearby dairies. Neigh­boring land had cattle and horses, too. In mid-century, however, the federal gov­ernment invested millions of dollars in building a superhighway system, a portion of which I would be able to see from my living room window. Interstate 5, which runs the length of the West Coast, demanded more changes in our neighborhood. A developer bought the farm next to ours and dug two enormous holes, using the soil to shape the bed on which the road engineers built the highway. Groundwater filled those holes, and so I grew up across the street from two large, human-made lakes. In addition, the highway changed drainage patterns, which affected our farm making some places wetter and some drier. Another significant shift had occurred.

With population pressures and profit to be made, that developer decided to turn the erstwhile farm into a lakefront development. In the late 1980s, then, that land converted to a suburban subdivision, complete with chemical-drenched lawn and too-large, close-together homes. The ever-expanding Seattle metropolitan are fueled this suburban`growth. My father, who had worked our land as a farmhand, - before he and my mother bought it in the 1960s, took a job in town in the late 1970s at a store that primarily sold farm supplies. As the transformation of farm to-suburb swept across the county, his store's products changed. Now he serve hobby farmers and soccer moms buying expensive dog food far more than he sell to working farmers. The suburban landscape now dominates the neighborhood, although my parents' land continues to keep suburban development at bay.

Not all is in ecological decline, however. In recent years, salmon have been seen in the creek and ditches. Some of the remaining farmers do not wish the authorities to know, for fear endangered species laws may force them to change their agricultural practices. Trees have returned so much so that the once-unobstructed view of the Cascade Mountains that I enjoyed from my living room is gone. Only the peaks of the mountains are visible. The gouging clear-cuts that were once visible appear from a distance to be healing.

Many of the themes that appear in this book were ones that, unbeknownst to me, I lived in the shadow of. These ecological transformations—forest to farm to suburb—characterize much of the region's environmental history. 

Mark Stoll offered Sowards the freedom`to define the boundaries of this study as hesaw fit. Although originally conceived as being a volume on the West Coast of North America, certain choices and inclinations on my part have both enlarged and shrunk those borders. In an attempt to make the political and economic contexts more manageable, Sowards committed a grand sin of environmental history and de­limited the study by political borders, instead of ecological ones. Although there are good arguments to include British Columbia (and Alaska, as well) in the north and Mexico in the south, this book remains centered on what became by 1848 United States territory. However, in an attempt to use some ecological criteria to establish the edges of the study area, Sowards elected to follow watersheds inland from the coast. Since the Columbia-Snake river systems gather water from much of the Northwest interior and push through the Cascade Mountains, Sowards extended the original boundary eastward, over the mountains. In practical effect, then, this re­gion called interchangeably the Pacific West or Far West constitutes most or all of the modern states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Although these boundaries may not be entirely satisfactory, they allow the study to encompass a generous concept of the United States West Coast.


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