Environment and History
Environment and History 8(2002): 403-428
Upland environments are particularly vulnerable to the stresses of climate change. The strength and persistence of such forces are not easy to measure and hence comparison of climate impacts with anthropogenic impacts has remained problematic. This paper attempts to demonstrate the nature of human impact on forest cover and flooding in the Annecy Petit Lac Catchment in pre-Alpine Haute Savoie, France, between 1730 and 2000. Local documentary sources and a pollen record provided a detailed history of forest cover and management, making it possible to plot changes in forest cover against local and regional precipitation records, and their individual and combined impacts on flooding. A main period of large-scale, uniform and rapid deforestation in the catchment was identified in the early nineteenth century, but sub-catchment patterns of reforestation and regeneration have varied up to the present. The period of deforestation was accompanied by demographic expansion and regional scale exogenous forces, such as small scale industrial development, foreign occupation, war, caveats and laws, acting alongside local scale endogenous forces and land fragmentation, agricultural crisis, and the desire for pasture. These all produced conflict between individual needs and those of communities and resulted in localised changes in forest cover. Joint phases of deforestation and flooding are more evident in individual second order tributaries than the whole catchment, but there appears to be no obvious or simple causal link between forest cover change, climate anomalies and flooding.
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