Through the eyes of Lewis and Clark: wildlife abundance and distribution 200 years ago

TitleThrough the eyes of Lewis and Clark: wildlife abundance and distribution 200 years ago
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsLaliberte, Andrea S., Ripple W.J.
Conference Name68th Annual Meeting of the Soil Science Society of America
Date PublishedOctober 1, 2004
ARIS Log Number172314
Keywords200 years ago, abundance, distribition, Lewis and Clark, wildlife
AbstractThe Lewis and Clark journals contain some of the earliest and detailed written descriptions of a large part of the United States before Euro-American settlement. We used the journal entries to map Lewis and Clark's encounters with wildlife and the human population and performed a GIS analysis to determine human influences on wildlife. Human influence was calculated by distance to the nearest settlement and settlement density in a 50-km radius. More species were present in areas with few human settlements, such as the west-central portion of the Plains. The fewest number of species were seen in areas with denser human population, along the Columbia River and west to the Pacific coast. Each species became more abundant with increasing distance from human settlements and with decreasing settlement densities. Bison, elk, grizzly, and wolves were predominantly found in the plains because the predators followed the then abundant prey population. Elk, bison, bighorn sheep, and wolves were absent from the Columbia Basin. The results show that humans had considerable influence over wildlife distribution and abundance, even under relatively low human population densities. This study offers an improved understanding of the historical reference condition and shows that human influences should not be underestimated when investigating historical ecological conditions.