environmental history  

introduction geography geology cultures ecosystem conservation  
  Historic barn (left).  Well worn Native American knife blade (top right).  Manufactured door hinge (bottom right) 

Project goal:  Help sustain the natural resources and protect cultural resources of the Driftless Area.

Driftless Area




Groups of PaleoIndians from the Old World immigrated into North America during the Late Pleistocene Epoch. They were big game hunters that moved around the landscape in small groups following the prey species.  They hunted with spears and projectile points flaked from stone known as Clovis and Dalton points. The chert used for the Clovis points came from very select sources with the closet one to the Driftless Area may be in Burlington, Iowa. The broken spear points were often modified and re-used for other tools such as a drill before being lost or discarded. The hunting success and warming climatic conditions likely led to the extinctions of the Pleistocene big game like the wooly mammoth and mastodon.  Whole skeletons of mammoth and mastodon have been found buried in soil deposits from the Midwest to Alaska including bones with tool marks from PaleoIndians.  Native people had to adjust by using other prey species and subsistence activities as the large game became scarce.

Native Americans

Archaic Societies occupied parts of the Midcontinent during periods of global climate change and environmental succession including through a very dry period known as the Hypsithermal and another cold period known as the Little Ice Age.  More permanent village, agriculture, and trading developed during the Archaic Period compared to the PaleoIndians.  The Woodland Societies that followed Archaic Societies were much less mobile and depended on a variety of food sources for subsistence.  They hunted deer more effectively with the invention of the bow and arrowhead points.  These people stored wild and cultivated foods and grains in pottery. They also built large mounds some in the shape of animals. The Effigy Mounds National Monument in the Driftless Area contains the largest collection of mounds in the world.  The use of fire for habitat management by the Native Americans may have influenced the composition of forest tree species. The expansion of the Late Woodland Society may have threatened deer and firewood resources, giving way to other heavily agricultural based societies. These Native Americans lived off the land and persisted until European contact and the formation of Tribal lands further to the west.



Native Americans and early settlers used lead and zinc from the Driftless Area.  Europeans immigrated into the Driftless Area to mine the lead and zinc.  Both of these metals were in demand during the European settlement era of the United States. The lead was for ammunition and the zinc was used to make all kinds of house and farm wares.  Many of the mines were very small operations while others were larger and more organized.  It was boom time with developing towns serving the needs of the miners.  Some of the miners lived in dug out holes on the slopes so they were called badgers. The discovery of gold out west and other opportunities caused many of the Midwest miners to move on to other boom times leaving all kinds and shapes of abandoned mines.  Businessmen constructed a number of new zinc smelters in Illinois. New lead mining areas opened up in the TriState area of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Dairy Farmers

Other Europeans followed the miners into the Driftless Area as these territories became States. They used their knowledge of growing crops and raising livestock in the open hillsides and along the stream valley floodplains. They built log cabins, homes, and barns. The production of milk for creamery cooperatives became the norm. Many different flavors of cheeses developed during this era. They lived off the land by growing garden vegetables, tending to orchards, crops for the livestock, and livestock for milk and meat. They gathered wild foods, hunted for deer, and fished for trout. Farming the hillsides lead to poor erosion control and stream valleys filled in with sediments off the cropfields. Eventually, their hillside farming practices were modernized with the aid of government soil erosion prevention programs. Over time large scale farms developed with vast crop fields for grain production and the need to manage manure from large livestock facilities.  Manure spills and the widespread use of chemicals to control pests can adversely affect the environment too.
Restoration Ecologists

There are economic benefits and job creation by restoring degraded and impaired habitats for fish and wildlife. The rehabilitation and restoration of ecosystems help deliver ecological services ahd human uses.  The use benefits go beyond the revenue generated from mushroom harvesting, hunting, fishing and include passive uses such as hiking, paddling, photography, and bird watching.  There are intrinsic values related to aesthetic beauty and conservation of biodiversity that citizens from far away places are glad that exists in the Driftless Area. Society today is investing in the future by protecting and restoring Driftless Area habitats. Once again culture changes the land and the land influences culture.
Prescribed burns are used to rejunvinate
prairies and savannah habitats.
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