Anthropogenic prairies or meadows along the Northwest Coast of North America are herbaceous lowland openings in a forest-dominated landscape that were historically maintained by indigenous people through intentional burning and other management techniques. These anthropogenic ecosystems were once relatively common in the Northwest, but today are threatened because of the cessation of traditional resource management practices often coupled with widespread development and fire suppression. In this study, we explore the long-term history of Ebey's Prairie, an anthropogenic prairie on Whidbey Island, WA. We use analyses of soils, cultural features, archaeobotanical remains, and artifacts to demonstrate that people have been using the Ebey's Prairie locale for a variety of activities over a broad time scale (about 10,000 to 250 years B.P.). Within at least the last 2,300 years people began setting fires to create and maintain a “prairie” landscape. From that time onward, people used this landscape to harvest a range of open ecosystem resources. Understanding the long-term cultural and natural history of Ebey's and other prairies is a fundamental first step to managing these ecosystems for the future.
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