Use of Forest (pre-European Settlement)
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
related from the publication, I find little to disagree with.
of original forest coverage and role of indigenous use of fire
fascinating subjects. They would make excellent topics for
the ENTS list.
There is little doubt in my mind that Native
Americans impacted the
land considerably, especially along river corridors, and into
hills, and in fire prone regions. There were elk and bison in
Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, and western North Carolina.
grasslands were part of the reason for bison. Tom Bonnicksen
entire book about America's original forests and indigenous use
The book, entitled "America's Ancient Forests" is a
Bonnicksen provides well researched anecdotal evidence for
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
scant attention. He is quick to jump on environmentalists for
of understanding of forest ecosystems and how they really work.
no problem with him take well-intentioned, but basically naive
activists to task. However, he fails to point out the dismal
the timber industry, and at times, the lack of the forestry
forthrightness in dealing with the sins of its employers as the
reason behind forest activism. Nonetheless, his book is a good
perhaps the best researched in terms of anecdotal information
indigenous use of the land.
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of the original forest and some historical references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
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.
Back to Russ a second time
10, 2007 06:31 PST
Native American impacts on ecosystems and landscapes are one of
primary areas of academic interest. For a general overview with
extensive bibliography, see
My view is that Native American impact varied significantly in
and space, and was heavily dependent on population densities,
settlement patterns, and types of subsistence activities. There
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
forests after population crashes, since actual colonization and
settlement lagged behind discovery and contact. There is a very
array of opinions about this, and the question requires the
integration of many sources of data and disciplinary
There is also a general caution regarding the accuracy of
journals and reports.