Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Four centuries of change in northeastern United States forests"

photo by David Foster & Harvard Forest Archive

A view of the Swift River Valley in Central Massachusetts, photographed in 1890 is on the left. The image shows extensive forest clearing for homesteading and agriculture.  The same view photographed today is on the right. Forests have made a similar recovery in many parts of the Northeastern U.S.  

photo John Burk
Maple and pine trees dominate this modern scene of Harvard Pond in Petersham, Massachusetts. Maple numbers have risen by more than 20% in most towns since the colonial period. One of the things I found interesting about this statistic is that Sugar Maples were supposed to be on the decline from the introduction of earthworms from northern Europe where make a fast meal of the forest floor liter and the seeds were unable to germinate with no leaf mulch. At least that's been the story. This apparently contradicts that theory since they are increasing in the very area it was always said they were in decline. Over here in Sweden, there are billions upon billions of Earthworms and I have never noticed a hindrance of seed germination of young Maple seedlings. Oh well, who knows for sure.

David Foster, director of Harvard Forest, stood near a rock wall that had been a fence in a pasture during the 1800s, in an area now overtaken by trees. Now I have to say, this photo really intrigued me because in the vast dense woods around Gothenburg Sweden were I reside, there are all manner of ancient large stone walls running all through Swedish Forests on Hissingen. I've always wondered why we have so many of these walls in our forests over here which are actually centuries old boundaries that have no meaning today. Well, now I know why and for the very same reason as the info from this study and historical photographs.

photo: Mine

This is an old stone wall in the Forest around Biskapsgatan in Hissingen across from Göteborg Sweden. This particular view inside the forest is just in the woods behind my house. These walls can literally be found running through the woods everywhere and with no apparent logical direction or reason why someone would put the effort into them in the first place. Of course the woods are dense and it's always been a mystery to me why farmers would have bother centuries ago to build walls in deep dense forests over awkward terrain. Trees even grow up out of some walls. Two days ago I was asking a neighbour and some other in the know about the history of the area. They said Hissingen had been stripped in many parts a few centuries back for agriculture. Funny, I always thought some land grabbing Viking Clans did it in competition with each other. Well at least now I am a little wiser as to their origin thanks mostly to Harvard School of Forestry. This isn't the first time I've been impressed with some of their articles and research.
Below here are the references you'll need for further reading 

Reading References:
Press Release: 400-year Study Finds Northeast Forests Resilient, Changing
PLOS ONE paper: "Four centuries of change in northeastern United States forests"

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