Indigenous Use of Forest (pre-European Settlement)   Robert Leverett
   Jan 10, 2007 04:53 PST 


   Thanks. I was particularly interested in the view of the publication
about the pre-settlement forest cover of the Virginias. In what you
related from the publication, I find little to disagree with. The degree
of original forest coverage and role of indigenous use of fire are
fascinating subjects. They would make excellent topics for discussion on
the ENTS list.

   There is little doubt in my mind that Native Americans impacted the
land considerably, especially along river corridors, and into adjacent
hills, and in fire prone regions. There were elk and bison in
Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, and western North Carolina. The open
grasslands were part of the reason for bison. Tom Bonnicksen wrote an
entire book about America's original forests and indigenous use of fire.
The book, entitled "America's Ancient Forests" is a good read.
Bonnicksen provides well researched anecdotal evidence for indigenous
impact. He stretches a little too far in some areas and reveals a bit of
bias in places, but not too excess. His motives are good ones.

   Bonnicksen's shortcomings lie not so much in what he says, but what
he doesn't say. The atrocious record of the timber industry receives
scant attention. He is quick to jump on environmentalists for their lack
of understanding of forest ecosystems and how they really work. I have
no problem with him take well-intentioned, but basically naive forest
activists to task. However, he fails to point out the dismal record of
the timber industry, and at times, the lack of the forestry profession's
forthrightness in dealing with the sins of its employers as the driving
reason behind forest activism. Nonetheless, his book is a good read and
perhaps the best researched in terms of anecdotal information about
indigenous use of the land.         

Bob wrote:

The West Virginia Forestry Association, the statewide timber and forest
industry trade association, published a booklet a couple of years ago titled
"Common Myths About Appalachian Forests". In the booklet there are some very interesting descriptions of the original forest and some historical references
that leave one to wonder what other things and places early explorers and
credentialed observers saw and described.

There are several titles with a total of ten forestry related issues

The "Myths" are broken into categories with several of the historical
descriptions well referenced. I have found myself wondering what else
some of the referenced people wrote in their journals.   Much of the historical
writing is western Virginia specific.

Anyhow...Myth 1...."When European settlers arrived in eastern North
America, they found the land occupied by old-growth forests with indigenous
people living in harmony in nature"    This part of the booklet describes the
size of some of the ancient "Indian meadows" that had been created by
generations of repeated fires and many other ways in which early humans interacted with the forest. The entire topic is covered in some detail and, as I said, some of the cited references look like a good read. 

Re: Back to Russ a second time
  Jan 10, 2007 06:31 PST 

Native American impacts on ecosystems and landscapes are one of my
primary areas of academic interest. For a general overview with an
extensive bibliography, see

My view is that Native American impact varied significantly in time
and space, and was heavily dependent on population densities,
settlement patterns, and types of subsistence activities. There is
also the issue of actual populations both before and during the
colonization period - some lines of evidence suggest population
crashes and relocations at and during the time of contact due to
disease and other factors, so that the 'primeval forest' forest
described in some historical accounts may be in some cases recovering
forests after population crashes, since actual colonization and
settlement lagged behind discovery and contact. There is a very broad
array of opinions about this, and the question requires the
integration of many sources of data and disciplinary perspectives.
There is also a general caution regarding the accuracy of historical
journals and reports.

Roger Brown