Read full article in National Geographic, Planet Possible. Patches of forest cleared and tended by Indigenous communities but lost to time still show more food bounty for humans and animals than surrounding forests.
For hundreds of years, Indigenous communities in what is now British Columbia cleared small patches amid dense conifer forest. They planted and tended food and medicine-bearing trees and plants—sometimes including species from hundreds of miles away—to yield a bounty of nuts, fruits, and berries. A wave of European disease devastated Indigenous communities in the late 1700s, and in the 1800s, colonizers displaced the Indigenous people and seized the land. The lush, diverse forest gardens were abandoned and forgotten.
A few years ago, Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, an ethnobotanist at Simon Fraser University, was invited by First Nation elders to investigate why hazelnut trees were growing at abandoned village sites near the coast. The plants were far from their native habitat in the dry interior and seemingly lost among towering cedars and hemlocks. Armstrong began to suspect she was studying human-created ecosystems—and they were thriving, even with no one caring for them. She brought her suspicions to community elders, who confirmed them by sharing memories of ancestors cultivating