Assessing the Potential Impacts of Natural Events on the Holocene Productivity of Anadromous Fish Populations in Western Idaho

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The historic use of anadromous fish on the Snake River Plain has been the source of considerable discussion and debate (Gould and Plew 1996; Pavesic and Meatte 1980; Plew 1983). Traditionally, archaeologists have argued that abundant fall Chinook runs provided the foundation for winter storage and a level of resource intensification that served as the basis for the "emergence of village life" (Pavesic and Meatte 1980:21). Other, more contemporary approaches have utilized optimal foraging models as a means of examining the harvest, processing, and storage costs associated with a bulk procurement strategy (Gould and Plew 1996) and have examined resource rankings and nutritional values of fish harvests (Plew 1983). In a recent article Plew (2009) reviews the zooarchaeological evidence of diet breadth and prey choice shifts during the Archaic period (7000-150 BP). Notably, data suggests limited use of fish until approximately 1,500 years ago. The increased use of fish, particularly during the Late Archaic, is argued to result from the emergence of modern, more arid environmental conditions that saw increasing numbers of artiodactyls aggregating in riverine settings. This chapter, however, assesses the potential of natural and cultural agencies to affect the productivity of the fishery by degradation or enhancement. It examines the potential of landslides, paleoseismic events, and range fires as events that could have altered/influenced conditions affecting the availability and productivity of the anadromous fishery in western Idaho. These impacts are argued to include cultural influences associated with the indigenous population and Euro-Americans. Environmental alterations beginning in the early historic period are argued to be in part the basis for the pattern of bulk procurement described by ethnographers and historians. This chapter discusses in greater detail the potential short-term/longer-term impacts of alteration of the Snake River corridor as a foundation for thinking about the extent, constancy, and timing of the use of the anadromous fishery. As the use of salmon has been seen as the basis for a pattern of increasing intensification and ultimately the emergency of village life on the Plain (Pavesic and Meatte 1980), assessment of the potential impacts of natural events disrupting the availability and/or productivity of salmon resources, both short and longer term, provides a means of evaluating the evolutionary trajectory of cultural developments in the region.