OOS 37-5
Fire, floodplains, and fish: Traditional resource management and the historic ecology of the lower Cosumnes River Watershed, CA

Thursday, August 14, 2014: 9:20 AM
306, Sacramento Convention Center
Emilie Zelazo, California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, CA
Michelle L. Stevens, Environmental Studies, CSUS, Sacramento, CA

The lower Cosumnes River watershed, located in the northeastern portion of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of Central California, has been home to the Plains Miwok for over 4,000 years. Ecological studies suggest that a symbiotic relationship may have existed between indigenous communities, floodplain biodiversity, and native fish fecundity prior to Euro-American settlement within the watershed.  This question was explored by reconstructing Plains Miwok traditional management practices and subsistence patterns through ethnographic and archaeological data. Ethnographic data was gathered from historical literature and local Miwok informants, while archaeological data was generated from zooarchaeological analysis of four sites dating to the Late Period (1200 to 100 B.P.).  These data sets were then compared to current floodplain conditions, modern day fish populations, and native fish life histories.  


Study results suggest that traditional management practices may have optimized the productivity of floodplain rearing habitats through the removal of senescent vegetation and soil rejuvenation.  Robust floodplains provide ideal conditions for increased native fish fecundity and reduced juvenile mortality. The presence of large healthy fish populations is supported by the zooarchaeological data which indicates that native fish species provided one-third of the local Plains Miwok diet for at least 1,100 years prior to 1850. In contrast, today, 49 percent of these fish are endangered, extirpated, or extinct as a result of floodplain habitat loss and the introduction of exotic species. It is hoped that the interdisciplinary approach presented here can provide a template for the integration of ethnographic and archaeological data into ecological restoration and conservation efforts.