A Comparison of Scientific and Literary Perceptions of Pre-European Settlement Forests in Michigan

By Copenheaver, Carolyn A. | Michigan Academician, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Comparison of Scientific and Literary Perceptions of Pre-European Settlement Forests in Michigan


Copenheaver, Carolyn A., Michigan Academician


ABSTRACT

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans viewed pre-European settlement forests as untouched preserves of large trees and abundant wildlife. Scientists have been testing this view of pre-European settlement forests for the past 75 years, and the idealized image does not match the historical data. Witness trees and bearing trees from the original land surveys record a dynamic pre-European settlement forest with disturbances creating a mosaic of old-growth, mature stands; juvenile forests; and open grasslands across the landscape. Although today's scientists have changed their perceptions of pre-European settlement forests, most literary descriptions either continue to reflect an idealized view of a dense primeval forest or describe an environment similar to present-day forest conditions. As environmental policy from the early twentieth century has shown, policymakers are often more persuaded by literature and art than by scientific publications. Until there is a closer match between science and literature or until scientists make a concerted effort to communicate to a nonscientific audience, forest policy will continue to be influenced by inaccurate ideals of pre-European settlement forests.

INTRODUCTION

Americans since the late 1700s have been interested in the forests that covered their lands before European settlement. Part of this interest stems from the idealized portrayals of the New World's virgin forests in many nineteenth century American paintings and novels. Artworks from the Hudson River School, such as Thomas Doughty's In Nature's Wonderland, 1835, and Thomas Cole's Schroon Mountain, Adirondacks, 1838, depict a majestic, forested landscape with pristine lakes, picturesque mountains, and no human influences (Sweet 1945; Powell 1990). The themes of these artworks often expressed concern for the future management of the nation's resources (Roque 1987). Literary works from this time period depict a similar view of the idealized forest primeval which is best represented in Cooper's (1840/1980) description of a virgin New York state forest where

  the eye ranged over an ocean of leaves, glorious and rich in the
  varied but lively verdure of a generous vegetation, and shaded by the
  luxuriant tints that belong to the forty-second degree of latitude.
  The elm, with its graceful and weeping top, the rich varieties of the
  maple, most of the noble oaks of the American forest, with the
  broadleafed linden, known in the parlance of the country as the
  basswood, mingled their uppermost branches, forming one broad and
  seemingly interminable carpet of foliage that stretched away toward
  the setting sun, until it bounded the horizon by blending with the
  clouds (11).

In the early twentieth century, many foresters compared these characterizations of pre-European settlement forests to early twentieth century forests and warned the public about the "depletion of our virgin forests" (Pinchot 1910/1967) and the risk of a "timber famine so severe that its blighting effects will be felt in every household in the land" (Forest Service 1920). One of the most active advocates of reforestation was Joseph Rothrock, a former member of the Pennsylvania State Forestry Commission, who in 1915 threatened that "unless we reforest, Pennsylvania's highlands will wash to the oceans" (DeCoster 1995). Active lobbying for forest conservation by concerned foresters led to a public demand for reforestation and conservation regulations (van Hise 1910; Ise 1920/1972; Schamaltz 1972). Many forest policies enacted in the early twentieth century reflected a fear that the nation was irretrievably losing its primeval forests due to resource mismanagement. This concern originated from foresters incorrectly comparing early twentieth century forests with idealized literary and artistic descriptions of pre-European settlement forests.

Many of the conservation regulations from the early twentieth century called for foresters to restore the forests to their pre-European settlement, resource-rich condition.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A Comparison of Scientific and Literary Perceptions of Pre-European Settlement Forests in Michigan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?