An Ecological History of the Hudson Valley
Charles D. Canham
Senior Scientist
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
abbrevia...
Disclaimers…
• I’m not a historian…
• Perspective of a forest ecologist on
human land-use that has transformed a
forested ...
Setting the Stage: The Hudson Valley prior to
European Settlement
• Largely unbroken forest, dominated by oaks
0
10
20
30
...
Transformation of Dutchess County by early
European agriculture…
From homestead to
intensive wheat
farming
(1750 – 1825)…
...
The Erie Canal and the exodus west…
Land abandonment and farm
consolidation (1825 – 1875)
0
1000
2000
3000
4000
1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000
Year
Population
Erie Canal
0
1000
2000
3000
4000
1750 1800 1850 1900 1...
Reestablishment of forests (1825 – 1925)
First white pine
harvests on abandoned
fields
Hardwoods
regenerating after a
pine...
Poughkeepsie
Trends in forest
cover
1700: ~ 100%
1825: ~ 25%
1915: ~ 16%
2000: ~ 55%
Current forest land
? Have the forests “recovered”?
(and,
should
we let
them?)
What’s missing…?
Dutchman’s breeches
Maidenhair fern
Trout lily
What’s new….?
Garlic mustard
Tree of heaven
Invasive species
What else is new…?
A new habitat:
“oldfields”
Are “oldfields” our most endangered
habitat?
View
from
Stissing
Mountain
Where have all the fires gone?
(and can we bring them back?)
• Is fire suppression responsible for a reduction in the regi...
Catskill and Adirondack Logging: First Wave
1800 - 1890
Harvesting conifers from
the river valleys, using
horses and water...
The Tanning Industry…
• Catskills
– Slopes completely logged in search of hemlock bark
(1830 – 1870)
• Adirondacks
– Tanni...
Logging: Mechanization
The advent of railroads (circa 1890)
Clearcutting of
hardwood forests
(and the advent
of fires…)
Logging: the modern forest products industry
• Development of the modern forest products industry
– Pulp and paper (disapp...
What did we do to the forests inadvertently…?
• Arguably the most pervasive human impacts* on eastern US forests
over the ...
Lessons…
• We have created entirely new ecosystems, and landscape
configurations that are without historical precedent…
• ...
A burden of stewardship...
…If we have the power to so completely transform nature, don’t we have a
responsibility to guid...
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From Forests to Farms, and Back Again: Land Use Change in the Hudson Valley

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The Hudson Valley is a treasured landscape that has undergone tremendous change over the past century. This forum explores how science-based stewardship on private land can help protect and promote healthy forests and open spaces, now and for future generations.

Presentations (5) explore threats our forests and natural areas face – from invasive species and climate change to deer overabundance – and actions that can be taken on a site-by-site basis to optimize conditions. A special focus will be given to the overlap between sport hunting and conservation communities, with a roundtable discussion on advancing common ground. Hosted April 12, 2014 at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Presentation Part I by: Charles Canham, Forest Ecologist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Published in: Environment, Technology, Business
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From Forests to Farms, and Back Again: Land Use Change in the Hudson Valley

  1. 1. An Ecological History of the Hudson Valley Charles D. Canham Senior Scientist Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies abbreviated, with emphasis on Dutchess County… and a view to lessons for land stewardship in the 21st century…
  2. 2. Disclaimers… • I’m not a historian… • Perspective of a forest ecologist on human land-use that has transformed a forested landscape…
  3. 3. Setting the Stage: The Hudson Valley prior to European Settlement • Largely unbroken forest, dominated by oaks 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 Oaks Hickories Hemlock Pine Maples Presettlement Forests Current Forests “witness trees” recorded in original deeds (1750 – 1790) for the current property of the Cary Arboretum in Millbrook Percent Tree Species
  4. 4. Transformation of Dutchess County by early European agriculture… From homestead to intensive wheat farming (1750 – 1825)… (Photos of the Harvard Forest Dioramas)
  5. 5. The Erie Canal and the exodus west… Land abandonment and farm consolidation (1825 – 1875)
  6. 6. 0 1000 2000 3000 4000 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 Year Population Erie Canal 0 1000 2000 3000 4000 1750 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 Year Population Erie Canal Population in the Town of Clinton, Dutchess Co. NY 1750 - 2000
  7. 7. Reestablishment of forests (1825 – 1925) First white pine harvests on abandoned fields Hardwoods regenerating after a pine harvest
  8. 8. Poughkeepsie Trends in forest cover 1700: ~ 100% 1825: ~ 25% 1915: ~ 16% 2000: ~ 55% Current forest land
  9. 9. ? Have the forests “recovered”? (and, should we let them?)
  10. 10. What’s missing…? Dutchman’s breeches Maidenhair fern Trout lily
  11. 11. What’s new….? Garlic mustard Tree of heaven Invasive species
  12. 12. What else is new…? A new habitat: “oldfields”
  13. 13. Are “oldfields” our most endangered habitat? View from Stissing Mountain
  14. 14. Where have all the fires gone? (and can we bring them back?) • Is fire suppression responsible for a reduction in the regional dominance of oak species in many parts of the eastern US? • Has the reduction in the abundance of oaks over the past 200 years fundamentally altered the flammability of these forests? http://oaksavannas.org/fire-fuel.html Percent Tree Species
  15. 15. Catskill and Adirondack Logging: First Wave 1800 - 1890 Harvesting conifers from the river valleys, using horses and water for transportation Photos from B. McMartin. 1994. The Great Forest of the Adirondacks
  16. 16. The Tanning Industry… • Catskills – Slopes completely logged in search of hemlock bark (1830 – 1870) • Adirondacks – Tanning industry on periphery of the Park (1850 – 1890) Source: B. McMartin. 1992. Hides, Hemlocks, and Adirondack History
  17. 17. Logging: Mechanization The advent of railroads (circa 1890) Clearcutting of hardwood forests (and the advent of fires…)
  18. 18. Logging: the modern forest products industry • Development of the modern forest products industry – Pulp and paper (disappearing?) – Selective logging for sawlogs (the ideal?) – Biomass fuel (the future?)
  19. 19. What did we do to the forests inadvertently…? • Arguably the most pervasive human impacts* on eastern US forests over the past century have been from the introduction of new pests and pathogens… – Chestnut blight – Dutch elm disease – Gypsy moth – Beech bark disease – Hemlock wooly adelgid – Emerald ash borer – Asian longhorned beetle – …? (including changes in outbreaks of native pests and pathogens) Heavily diseased and resistant beech trees *on distribution and abundance of specific tree species
  20. 20. Lessons… • We have created entirely new ecosystems, and landscape configurations that are without historical precedent… • This is good! (or at least not necessarily bad…)
  21. 21. A burden of stewardship... …If we have the power to so completely transform nature, don’t we have a responsibility to guide the changes…? … If we can’t recreate the past, what are our goals for the future of the landscape…?

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