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Environmental Management

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 195–206 | Cite as

Bison and elk in the American Southwest: In search of the pristine

  • Joe Truett
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Abstract

Ecosystem managers often use the early historic condition of the fauna in an area as the model for restoration or management. West of the Pecos River in the American Southwest, present-day abundances and distributional ranges of bison and American elk exceed those reported in early historic times. I evaluate several potential causes for the historic scarcity of these animals—inadequate forage, insufficient water, nonhuman predation, disease, and hunting by late-prehistoric humans. Archaeological and ecological evidence suggest that restricted availability of water coupled with hunting by late-prehistoric peoples probably were the most important causes. Perennial water is more widely distributed now than previously, mainly because of water well and water catchment construction. Proliferation of agriculture-based human economies in the region from AD 0–1500 led to rapid population growth of aboriginal peoples, with resulting increased harvests of resources. The likelihood that late-prehistoric humans severely depleted the abundances of large mammals indicates a need to reevaluate the exclusive use of early-historic conditions as the basis for setting goals for ecosystem management. Implications of reintroducing large herbivores to ecosystems are discussed.

Key words

Bison Elk Prehistoric American Southwest Ecosystem management Population regulation 

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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joe Truett
    • 1
  1. 1.Truett ResearchGlenwoodUSA

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