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RIVER LIFE

Bears don’t read boundary signs: environmental history in/of the north land

An interesting post on a blog of early Canadian history reminds us (again) of how recently we have put in place structures we now think of as “inevitable” or “permanent.”

In the 18th century, as Britain and France were figuring how how to deal with their colonial ambitions in the St. Lawrence River valley, reports of “bear years” and “squirrel years” complicated nationalist efforts to “fix” boundaries.  Periodically, large numbers of black bears moved south out of Quebec, reaching into Massachusetts territory, where they excited and alarmed settlers.  Other years, the migrants were thousands upon thousands of black squirrels.  In all cases, the shifting numbers of animals were accompanied by movements of indigenous hunters, which, of course, complicated efforts to figure out where these populations “belonged,” which crown, if any they were “subject” to, etc.

These reports are interesting and fun to read about in their own right (to me, at least) but they also remind us that our tenure on these lands and waters is relatively recent.  Underneath our territorial lines and roadways, our “property” boundaries, lies a still-living continent of land and water. We would do well to remember this.

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