I just finished this excellent book, written in the 1950s by Anthropologist Omer Stewart. I have to admit that it was both enlightening and depressing. It was enlightening in that Stewart shines a light on how significant Native American fires were on the growth of prairies throughout North America as well as other fire-dependent trees and plants. Stewart–unlike other Anthropologists and Ecologists of his time–believed the habitats and ecosystems settlers found as they crossed the continent existed because of “Indian-burning”, not merely because of climate, amount of rainfall, evaporation, or soils. Despite many differences in climate and soils across the continent, many areas shared similar vegetation (i.e. prairies) because Indian burning was more significant than natural influences. For example, Stewart asked, “If I’m wrong, then why have the prairies disappeared by encroaching trees, once Indian fire left?” Stewart’s research and findings undermine today’s mainstream environmental paradigm of “wilderness” before settlement. The use of “Indian Forestry” or frequent burning was used to grow both forage and edibles (among other things), while reducing larger fires, something California is bearing the most today. Our collective ignorance of fire and its underutilized value in the forest is something I feel the worst about as a Forester. 


May the Forest Be with You,



Ryan Trapani

Director of Forest Services

Catskill Forest Association