Among the first inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada and
Great Basin areas were tribes of Native Americans. Later,
there were European herders, minors (seeking a fortune
in gold and silver ore) and others who played a vital
role in the development of this vast area.
The Kudzedika Paiutes inhabited the Mono Lake area
and traded with the Miwoks of the western slopes. These
Native Americans were the ancestors of today's tribal
groups in Death Valley, Big Pine, Bishop, and the Washoe
area of Nevada. Today these tribes are utilizing their
reservation lands to develop business centers, casinos
and other ventures, enhancing the quality of life for
their respective populations.
It is estimated that from 8,000 B.C. until 1820, the
Sierra Nevada was home to native peoples. They flourished
by utilizing the water, minerals, plants and animals
of the region. They initiated an evolution of the area
through the process of changing the Sierra in ways to
accommodate their needs. The most significant impact
came from their practice of burning parts of the mountains.
This reduced the risk of fire around their villages,
improved the growth of plants for food and basket making
and increased the deer browse for better hunting.
During the three decades preceding the gold rush, contact
with Europeans caused the native culture to amend their
land use patterns. Pathogenic diseases were introduced
that decreased the numbers of native peoples. During
these times, native tribes acquired horses and moved
deep into the mountains.
The gold rush of 1848 brought a large population boom
to the region. More environmental damage was caused
during this time than during any time previous. In the
mid 1800s, conservation movements were begun and have
continued ever since. Today, logging, fire management
and wilderness preservation are in effect and supported
by the majority of the population.
The Sierra Nevada region will continue to evolve, but,
hopefully, will be protected for the benefit of future
generations. As today's cultures are still dependent
on these lands and perhaps, more than ever before, it
is imperative that man and his environment be united.