Native Americans knew how to treat the forest to keep it clear of dangerous undergrowth and dead material that fuels large first. This practice enabled them to travel easily and to spot unwelcome visitors. Natives employed forestry practices that maximized the growth of trees and other useful plants and minimized others that were not. Native Americans also knew how to use backfires to control large fires.
Trees were an important source of food and construction material for the Native people and later the settlers. In the Northeast Native Americans lived in wigwams or longhouses made of trees and bark. Natives taught Europeans to gather native nuts such as pecans, hickory and pine nuts, acorns and walnuts, as well as paw paw and maypop fruits. They showed them how to make maple syrup. The sassafras tree was used to make tea, medicine, flavoring and dye.
Many Americans became wealthy from companies using wood products. New England settlers sold lumber and firewood to European sailors. Frequently the local lumber industry used Natives. New England ships dominated early whaling industry because American built ships were cheaper. The colonies also sold vast quantities of fish and firewood to Caribbean sugar mills.
Wood was important economically. Not only did wooden structures house people and businesses and provide sailing ships, wagons, early railroad cars, bridges and toll roads were built out of wood.
Native Americans remain connected with their environment. In the post contact era, it was common for Native people to earn money by making and selling baskets, commonly made from ash trees. In the late 1990s Native Americans made up more than one half or more of the total forest fire fighting forces. Some of the best fire teams were Native American. Of the sixty-five most skilled crews, the Type 1 crews, five were made up exclusively of Native Americans. Seventy percent of the majority of fire crews, the Type 2, are comprised of Native Americans.
One of the best Type 1 crews is the Fort Apache Hotshots. They were one of the first Native units and are considered one of the best in the world. The members train with six months of daily running and conditioning. The Chief Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew from the Blackfeet Reservation in Western Montana is so highly regarded it is among the first to be called into action each season.