They also surrounded the village with a two-mile-long stockade composed of 15, oak and hickory logs 21 feet tall. Forests were also changed or eliminated by many other activities. Fires were still set to augment hunting opportunities, but the woods were also burned to make way for specific tree species. Oaks and hickories, which produce abundant, nutritious fruits in certain years, were spared or actively propagated. Northern beech and maple forests were converted into oak and pine woods interspersed with fields.
Creating Something Out of Nothing: The Forest Man of India
The result of these management activities was a mosaic of agriculture, grassland, savanna, woodlands and forests, rather than an unbroken expanse of natural forest. Illustration of Christopher Columbus arriving in America. Credit: L. If this sounds at odds with the accounts of early explorers and settlers of pristine forests, there is a tragic reason: American Indians lacked immunity to European diseases, like smallpox and influenza, which wiped out 25 to 50 percent — sometimes 90 percent — of tribal populations. These diseases spread so quickly that, by the time a majority of European explorers arrived in an area, Indian populations had long been decimated.
This allowed trees to invade the old fields, savannas and other open areas the Indians had long maintained, giving the advancing colonists a false impression of a continent-wide, untrammeled wilderness. After Columbus, Europeans and their descendants also modified forests for their benefit, but with major differences. Paramount was the near-universal perspective that forests were either a threat that hid enemies, an obstacle to settlement, a resource to be converted to profit or all the above.
Selling fuel wood, bark for tanning and other wood products helped cover the cost of clearing the forest or provided extra income for established farmers. Initially, the pace of clearance was relatively slow, but the impacts accelerated with the ever-expanding population, which, by the s, was doubling every 20 to 30 years. By , the lowland forests of the Atlantic seaboard, New England and much of the Midwest had largely been cleared. Loggers in Oregon in Credit: Oregon Historical Society.
Then, perhaps the most sudden and drastic change to American forests ensued with the Industrial Revolution. Railroads and steam-generated power helped make lumber a large-scale industrial commodity. This vastly increased the demand for lumber far beyond local needs.
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For the first time in history, large-scale deforestation took place for no local reason, and mountain slopes were no longer a safe haven for forests. Timber production soared from one billion board feet in to 46 billion board feet in , enough to fill more than 10,, modern logging trucks. By , lumber had overtaken agriculture as the most important driver of deforestation. By , more than two-thirds of American forests had been leveled at least once, including the vast majority of eastern forests.
Timber companies simply harvested the forest and moved on, from the Great Lakes to the South and across the West, leaving behind stumps, fire prone slash and dead or dying lumber towns. Finally, they were stopped by the Pacific Ocean and forced to begin replanting practices.
The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey
Although deforestation continued apace, the overall decline in forest cover finally plateaued around , as trees reclaimed a portion of abandoned farms and clearcuts. Now, in the 48 contiguous states, logging mainly takes place on lands that have been previously harvested, and agricultural land use has generally stabilized. Although a relatively small fraction of forest is currently being lost to urbanization, the amount is increasing, and none of it will be returned to forest anytime soon.
Human impacts, from colonial times to the present, have drastically changed not just the size, but the nature of American forests, whether you consider the baseline for what is natural to be CE or 15, BP. Remove these species, and all those factors change. The resulting forest is now composed of pioneer species — those first to grow in a tree-less location, like aspen, birch and alder.
The old-growth forest species must wait until the pioneer species recreate their required soil, light and moisture conditions to reemerge.
The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey - Free Ebook
Similar changes in forest composition are created by natural events such as fires and wind storms, and the mature forest regenerates naturally. The difference is that most managed forests today are harvested so frequently that they never reach the optimal conditions for the species that prefer mature conditions.
Instead of a complex, old-growth structure of multi-layered canopies with a spectrum of young to ancient trees and tree fall gaps, decaying down wood, standing dead trees and high species diversity, forests today have relatively young, dense, even-aged and even-canopied stands of fewer species. Agricultural fields. Credit: Zen Sutherland. Simply replanting trees does not always mean the forest has returned.
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In places where timber companies have replanted with native trees — whether in rows on a plantation or less orderly in wilder areas — the new forest is a monoculture of commercial species that lacks most of the biodiversity associated with the original forest. Smaller patches of forest, or forest fragmentation, has also reduced forest biodiversity because the smaller fragments cannot support wide-ranging wildlife species.
In addition, the small, isolated populations of other species, including some trees, are more susceptible to local extinction. Commercial interests and overseas trade introduced many pathogens and pests that have significantly reduced the health and abundance of various trees. The chestnut blight fungus — accidentally imported from Europe around — took only 40 years to reduce mighty groves of American chestnuts, which had comprised up to 24 percent of many eastern forests, to scattered saplings that never mature. Other species affected by non-native disease or insects include the eastern white pine pine blister rust , American elm Dutch elm disease , oaks sudden oak death syndrome , ash emerald ash borer and hemlocks woolly adelgid.
The introduction of foreign trees also displaced native trees, as imported trees became invasive, like the tamarisk and Russian olive in the West and the cajeput tree in the Everglades. Sometimes even the best of intentions have resulted in wholescale transformations of our forests.
In the Smoky Bear era, fire suppression allowed the buildup of dead woody debris. Now, instead of frequent small fires that rarely reach the crowns of trees, we often have large conflagrations that destroy hundreds of thousands of acres. In response, some tree species and forest types disappeared, while others flourished in their wake or simply bided their time in a protected refuge. Usually, the changes were slow enough that most species and habitats survived by migrating. In the last two decades, the death rate of trees in western old-growth forests has doubled.
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