The American Environment and
The North American environment contains rich natural resources that, over time, have supported a succession of modes of living on the land. A core topic in environmental history is how different peoples at different times have used, perceived, managed, and conserved their environments. Native Americans developed several forms of land use appropriate to the resources of different regions of the United States. This chapter compares three patterns of Native American subsistence and the processes by which European settlers colonized particular North American landscapes: southwestern horticulture; northeastern hunting and gathering; and the Great Plains buffalo and horse cultures.
The physical environment that constitutes the present United States can be characterized in terms of its area, location, climate, rainfall, and topography. Its total area is approximately 3.6 million square miles. The 48 contiguous states extend from the 24th parallel at the tip of Florida to the 49th parallel at their northern border with Canada, falling between 66 and 125 degrees west longitude. Alaska lies between 54 and 72 degrees north latitude and 130 degrees east longitude, with the westernmost point of the Aleutian Islands being in the Eastern Hemisphere at 172 degrees east longitude. The tropical Hawaiian Islands are situated between 19 and 25 north latitude and 155 and 176 west longitude.
The climate of the 48 mainland states is temperate, having cold winters and hot summers. The states east of the 100th meridian are characterized as humid, with 20–60 inches on average of annual rainfall distributed throughout the year; those west of the 100th meridian have an average between 5 and 20 inches, distributed mainly in the winter months. Topographically, the country extends westward from the Atlantic coastal plain at