Bridging the gap between ecosystem theory and forest watershed management


The history of forests and logging in North America provides a back drop for our study of Watershed (WS) 7. Prior to European settlement, potentially commercial forests covered approximately 45% of North America, but not all of it was the pristine, ancient forest that some have imagined. Prior to 1492, Native Americans had extensive settlements throughout eastern North America, but to European settlers, the area was a wilderness. It was described by early settlers as “repugnant, forbidding, and repulsive….The forest were wild areas, alien to man and in need of felling, firing, grazing, and cultivating so that they could become civilized abodes”. Across North America, forests were cleared for agriculture and forest products, primarily lumber and fuel. First in the Northeast, then the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, the Southeast, and the Pacific Northwest, forest were cleared, with little regard for future forest values. Forests were viewed as an inexhaustible natural resource, and large logging companies would “cut and run” to the next tract in the forest. By the mid-nineteenth century, commercial forest land in the United States had been reduced to about half its original area. In the southern Appalachian region, almost 90% of the forests were cut; and many of these areas were burned by the turn of the century. In the later nineteenth century, George Perkins Marsh, Frederic Starr, and others began to raise concerns about extensive forest loss. Scientist such as Bernhard Fernow and Gilford Pinchot began the era of forest management in the United States. As a result of improved forest management in the United States. As a result of improved forest management, decline demand for forest products (especially fuel), fire suppression, and agricultural land abandonment the area of forest land began to increase. “Regrowth can be seen everywhere, and one is struck by the robustness of the forest”. The resilience of American forest is especially evident in the southern Appalachians. For example, there was a 38% increase in wood volume in the forests of the southern Appalachian region of North Carolina between 1984 and 2006, with no change in forest area.

  • Citation: Webster, Jackson, R.; Swank, Wayne T.; Vose, James M.; Knoepp, Jennifer D.; Elliott, Katherine J. 2014. Bridging the gap between ecosystem theory and forest watershed management. In: Swank, Wayne T.; Webster, Jackson R., comps., eds. Long-term response of a forest watershed ecosystem. Clearcutting in the southern Appalachian. Oxford University Press: 229-247.

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