North America in the Year 1400Project Summary and Background
North America has changed radically since 1400, prior to the arrival of Europeans. It was then a continent without roads, skyscrapers, massive farms and other signs of modern life. This project involves research to discover what the country looked like at this early date, how areas such as the eastern forests, prairies and western forests have changed, and what species of animals and plants disappeared or became threatened as a result of changes to their environment or losses in their populations from other causes.
o Read the section in this book entitled "Epitaphs for North America's Lost Species and Environments" in Chapter 1.
o Using this and other sources mentioned in the reference list and in local libraries, select an area somewhere in North America. Some possible choices are the following: Cape Cod, Massachusetts; the Chesapeake Bay; eastern old- growth forests; long-grass prairies of the Midwest; short-grass prairies of the West; Sequoia or Redwood forests of California; or the Mojave Desert in California. If there are parks in the area you choose, contact the park directors, conservation organizations and museums for natural history information.
- Describe the landscape as it was prior to the arrival of Europeans, without roads, modern buildings or other signs of the 20th century. What was the habitat like? Was it forest, mountain, grassland, desert, wetland, river or a combination of these? Were there beautiful vistas or dense woodlands with tangled vegetation? Describe a typical scene in the area you have chosen. For example, in a short-grass prairie, a herd of American Bison graze while, in the background, Pronghorn antelope run in close formation. On a distant hilltop, a pack of Gray Wolves watches the scene while a Grizzly Bear ambles through the low shrubs, looking for ripe berries. Overhead, flocks of Whooping Cranes soar, trumpeting to one another; and near a prairie dog town, grouse display in an open area, issuing booming calls.
- What species of mammals live here? If there are herds of deer, what species are they? Are there American Bison, Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep or Pronghorn? What kind of predators prey on these animals?
- Describe what bird species inhabit the area and whether they are abundant or rare. Are there Passenger Pigeons or Carolina Parakeets?
- What other kinds of animals are native? What reptiles, amphibians and fish, for example, inhabit the area? Apply the same questions about life history, habitats, reproduction and feeding.
- How do these animals interact ecologically? For example, if a western short-grass prairie were chosen, the prairie dog colony has abundant wildlife living underground in the burrows, including Black-footed Ferrets, Burrowing Owls, snakes and tortoises. Bison and other grazing animals feed on the grasses above, made greener by the cropping of the prairie dogs. Which species are the predators, and which the prey?
- Is there a tribe of Native Americans who live in this area? What is the name of the tribe? Are they nomadic, or have they established a permanent settlement? Are they hunters, fishers or farmers? What animals do they hunt or fish, or which crops are grown? What are their beliefs about the natural world and wildlife?
o Based on these descriptions of a past landscape, become acquainted with the present landscape and discuss the following:
- How has the natural environment changed? How does it appear today?
- What species no longer live here? Which ones are extinct altogether? (Check the list of extinct species in the Appendix and publications in the Books and Publications section on extinctions and extinct species accounts.)
- What do you think has been lost that should have been protected?
- Are there parts of this area that have not changed and remain as they were 600 years ago?
- Are there people or organizations working to preserve or restore parts of the original landscape and wildlife? How can you participate in this?
Note: This project can be applied to foreign countries or used by teachers outside of North America. As a general rule, it is easier if the area selected is local because information is easier to obtain. As a class project, students might divide into groups, each selecting a species or group of species, such as mammals. This project may be shortened and parts deleted if time is limited, concentrating, for example, on a single species of the region or the general changes in the landscape. It may also be broadened to explore, in detail, the plants and animals of the region by contacting the Natural Heritage Program of your state in the Wildlife Department.
"Epitaphs for North America's Lost Species and Environments" in Chapter 1 of this book has extensive references listed. Also the “Grasslands, Shrublands and Deserts,” “Aquatic Ecosystems” and “Forests” chapters provide details on these ecosystems and changes in them since settlement. See the “Persecution and Hunting” chapter for the treatment of native predators and the effect of their disappearance on ecological systems.
Books and Publications
The following list contains many out-of-print books that may be difficult to obtain, as well as many in-print editions, covering a wide variety of habitats and species of plants and animals. Conduct searches for these and other books in your library and through the Internet.
Ambrose, Stephen E. 1996. Undaunted Courage. Meriwether Lewis, Thomas
Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. A Touchstone Book, Simon &
Schuster, New York.
Audubon, Maria R. 1897. Audubon and His Journals. Vols. I and II. Dover
Publications, Inc., New York edition, 1994.
Beard, Daniel. 1942. Fading Trails. The Story of Endangered American Wildlife.
Macmillan Co., New York.
Blaugrund, Annette and Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. (eds.). 1993. John James
Audubon. The Watercolors for the Birds of America. Villard Books, Random
House/New York Historical Society, New York.
Brower, Kenneth. 1990. Yosemite. An American Treasure. National Geographic
Society, Washington, DC.
Chadwick, Douglas. 1990. The Kingdom. Wildlife in North America. Sierra
Club Books, San Francisco, CA.
Cokinos, C. 2000. Hope is the Thing with Feathers. A Personal Chronicle of
Vanished Birds. Warner Books, New York.
Davidson, Art. 1989. Alakshak. The Great Country. Sierra Club Books, San
Devall, Bill (ed.). 1993. Clearcut. The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry.
Sierra Club Books/Earth Island Press, San Francisco, CA.
DiSilvestro, Roger L. 1989. The Endangered Kingdom. The Struggle to Save
America's Wildlife. Wiley Science Editions, John Wiley & Son, New York.
Douglas, William O. 1968. My Wilderness, The Pacific West. Pyramid Books,
Dunlap, Thomas R. 1988. Saving America's Wildlife. Princeton University Press,
Feduccia, Alan (ed.). 1985. Catesby's Birds of Colonial America. University
of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC; London, UK.
Fisher, Ron. 1984. Our Threatened Inheritance. Natural Treasures of the
United States. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC.
Forbush, Edward Howe and John Bichard May. 1959. A Natural History of American
Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Bramhall House, New York.
Frome, Michael. 1974. Battle for the Wilderness. Praeger Publishers, New York.
Fuller, Errol. 2001. Extinct Birds. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Geist, Valerius. 1996. Buffalo Nation. History and Legend of the North
American Bison. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, MN.
Gleason, Herbert W. 1971. Thoreau's Cape Cod. Barre Publishers, Barre, MA.
Goudie, Andrew. 1982. The Human Impact. Man's Role in Environmental Change.
MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Grey Owl (Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin). 1937. Tales of an Empty Cabin. Dodd, Mead & Co.,
Grove, Noel 1992. Preserving Eden. The Nature Conservancy. Harry N. Abrams
Inc., New York.
Gunter, A.Y. 1972. The Big Thicket. A Challenge for Conservation. Chatham
Press Inc., Riverside, CT.
Hanley, Wayne. 1977. Natural History in America. From Mark Catesby to Rachel
Carson. Quadrangle/New York Times Books, New York.
Hawke, David (ed.). 1970. Captain John Smith's History of Virginia. A
Selection. Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.
Haynes, Bessie Doak and Edgar Haynes (eds.). 1979. The Grizzly Bear. Portraits
from Life. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
Highwater, J. 1995. Native Land. Barnes & Noble, New York.
Hornaday, William T. 1913. Our Vanishing Wild Life. New York Zoological
Society, New York.
Josselyn, John. 1972. New-England Rarities Discovered (reprint of 1672 book),
Massachusetts Historical Society.
Kopper, Philip. 1991. The Wild Edge. Life and Lore of the Great Atlantic
Beaches. 2nd edition. The Globe Pequot Press, Chester, CT.
Kricher, John C. 1988. Ecology of Eastern Forests. Peterson Field Guides.
Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.
Laycock, George. 1990. The Hunters and the Hunted. The Pursuit of Game in
America from Indian Times to the Present. An Outdoor Life Book, Meredith
Press, New York.
Madson, John. 1993. Tallgrass Prairie. A Nature Conservancy Book, Falcon
Press, Helena, MT.
McMillan, Ian. 1968. Man and the California Condor. E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.,
Middleton, David. 1992. Ancient Forests. A Celebration of North America's
Old-growth Wilderness. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.
Mowat, Farley. 1986. Sea of Slaughter. Atlantic Monthly Press and Bantam
Books, New York.
Peck, Robert McCracken. 1990. Land of the Eagle. A Natural History of North
America. Summit Books, New York. (See Selected Bibliography in this book,
Ponting, Clive. 1991. A Green History of the World. The Environment and the
Collapse of Great Civilizations. Penguin Books, New York.
Schorger, A.W. 1955. The Passenger Pigeon. Its Natural History and Extinction.
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1899. Wild Animals I Have Known. 1966 edition,
Grosset & Dunlap, New York.
Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1911. The Arctic Prairies. 1981 edition, Harper &
Row, New York.
Teal, John and Mildred Teal. 1969. Life and Death of the Salt Marsh. Audubon/
Ballantine Book, New York.
Thomas, Bill. 1976. The Swamp. W.W. Norton & Co., New York.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden or Life in the Woods (many editions).
Van Doren, Mark (ed.). 1955. Travels of William Bartram. Dover Publications,