The Myth of the Humanized Landscape: An Example from Yosemite National Park

  • Vale T
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The once-popular view that the United States before European settlement was a "pristine," natural landscape has been largely replaced by the view that the precontact landscape was "humanized" by native peoples. While having merit, the contemporary emphasis on ubiquitous human agency is overstated: large parts of the United States, particularly in the American West, may have been essentially natural, their landscapes characterized by processes of nature rather than people. Yosemite National Park is used here as an example to illustrate this point. The desire to visualize humanized landscapes in the pre-European era derives from social ideologies, rather than from careful assessment of ecological facts. Furthermore, those ideologies also monolithically stigmatize wilderness enthusiasm as superficial. The model of the pristine landscape has merit-its applicability in any given locale being an empirically testable proposition-and it should serve as a guide for management of natural areas.

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  • Thomas R. Vale

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