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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Down by the Riverside: The Disappearing Bottomland Hardwood Forest of Southeastern North America

Mikko Saikku

Environment and History 2(1996): 77-95

The rapid expansion of European culture since the fifteenth century has greatly altered the face of the countryside all over the world. Among the most dramatic examples of this are the changes in North American nature wrought by Europeans since the seventeenth century. It has been estimated that between the arrival of the first European colonists in the early seventeenth century and the adoption of sustainedyield forestry in the first decades of the twentieth century, the original forest cover of the United States over that same period was reduced by more than 80 percent.1 This article traces the history of human impact on bottomland hardwood forests of the southeastern United States, to show how enormous were the alterations brought about by Europeans in the southeastern bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem. Documentation of the different human activities in the area, from prehistoric times to the twentieth century, aims to place the dramatic decline of this forest type in a broader context of human-induced environmental change in North America.

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