Indians, Fire and the Land in the Pacific Northwest
Indians, Fire and the Land in the Pacific Northwest

Indians, Fire, and the Land in the Pacific Northwest


Robert T. Boyd (Editor)

Instead of discovering a land blanketed by dense forests, early explorers of the Pacific Northwest encountered a varied landscape of open woods, spacious meadows, and extensive prairies.  Far from a pristine wilderness, much of the Northwest was actively managed and shaped by the hands of its Native American inhabitants.  Their primary tool was fire.

This volume offers an interdisciplinary approach to one of the most important issues concerning Native Americans and their relationship to the land.  During more than 10,000 years of occupation, Native Americans in the Northwest learned the intricacies of their local environments and how to use fire to create desired effects, mostly in the quest for food.

Drawing on historical journals, Native american informants, and botanical and forestry studies, the contributors to this book describe local patterns of fire use in eight ecoregions, representing all parts of the Native Northwest, from southwest Oregon to British Columbia and from Puget Sound to the Northern Rockies.  Their essays provide glimpses into a unique understanding of the environment–a traditional ecological knowledge now for the most part lost.  Together, these writings also offer historical perspective on the contemporary debate over “prescribed burning” on public lands.


  • Introduction, Robert Boyd
  • Aboriginal Control of Huckleberry Yield in the Northwest, David French
  • Indian Land use and Environmental Change: Island County, Washington: A Case Study, Richard White
  • Indian Fires in the Northern Rockies: Ethnohistory and Ecology, Stephen Barrett and Stephen Arno
  • The Klikatat Trail of South-central Washington: A Reconstruction of Seasonally-Used Resource Sites, Helen H. Norton, Robert Boyd, and Eugene Hunn
  • Strategies of Indian Burning in the Willamette Valley, Robert Boyd
  • An Ecological History of Old Prairie Areas in Southwestern Washington, Estella B. Leopold and Robert Boyd
  • Yards, Corridors, and Mosaics: How to Burn a Boreal Forest, Henry T. Lewis and Theresa A. Ferguson
  • “Time to Burn”: Traditional use of Fire to Enhance Resource Production by Aboriginal Peoples in British Columbia, Nancy J. Turner
  • Landscape and environment: Ecological Change in the Intermontane Northwest, William G. Robbins
  • Aboriginal Burning for Vegetation Management in Northwest British Columbia, Leslie Main Johnson
  • Burning for a “Fine and Beautiful Open Country”: Native Uses of Fire in Southwestern Oregon, Jeff LaLande and Reg Pullen
  • Proto-historical and Historical Spokan Prescribed Burning and Stewardship of Resource Areas, John Ross
  • Conclusion: Ecological Lessons from Northwest Native Americans, Robert Boyd

“…by far the most comprehensive survey of North American Indian fire practices available…a rich broth of data and disciplines….nicely complements Thomas Blackburn and Kat Anderson’s compendium on California and Sylvia Hallam’s Australian monograph…can well serve as a model for other regions of the world where aboriginal economies, broadly interpreted, thrive.” — Stephen Pyne (University of Arizona, author: Fire in America, World Fire, Vestal FireH-Net Reviews

“the definitive source explaining the role of Indian fire in the Pacific Northwest….impressive list [of] authorities in the fields of history, anthropology, and ecology….The chapters range from northern California to British Columbia, and summarize nearly everything that is known about Pacific Northwest Indian use of fire in the environment….Indians, Fire, and the Land should be equally usable by archaeologists, anthropologists, ecologists, and historians.  This is more than a ‘recommend’—buy this one—you need it for your library.”  James Agee (University of Washington, author: Fire Ecology of Pacific Northwest Forests ), — Northwest Science, winter 2000

“Indians, Fire, and the Land in the Pacific Northwest should be read by every restorationist in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain region of the Northern Rockies—it’s that important and that good….it puts in black-and-white what people such as Dennis Martinez and Kat Anderson have been telling the restoration community for years—namely, that Native American peoples have much to teach the rest of us about how to manage the land properly.” — Ecological Restoration, winter 1999

“Indians, Fire, and the Land in the Pacific northwest…highlights many exciting avenues for discovering the dynamic nature of Indian communities prior to contact….[and] brings to us for the first time a coherent treatment of the role that anthropogenic fire played in the shaping and forming of a unique ecosystem and points to the great contribution that archaeology, paleobotany, and palynology can make to our historical understanding of early human landscape manipulation….important.”  Bruce Shelvey (Trinity Western University) Western Historical Quarterly, summer 2000

“a sound, up-to-date compilation of scholarship…,.provides valuable insights into Pacific Northwest Indian history….demonstrate[s] the relationship between culture and nature and the intersection between cultural and environmental change….[and] casts light on significant questions and themes surrounding particularly the use of prescriptive fire.”  Robert Bunting (author: The Pacific Raincoast ) Oregon Historical Quarterly, fall 1999



Paperback: 313 pages

Publisher: Oregon State University Press (March 1, 1999)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0870714597

ISBN-13: 978-0870714597





OREGON ENCYCLOPEDIA: Indian Use of Fire in Oregon