To see a timeline of Deforestation and Logging in Massachusetts, click here.
Before Europeans settled in North America, there was probably a great
deal of old growth forest. While Native Americans did burn the forest,
this probably occurred mainly around their areas of settlement, along the
coasts and near the rivers (Foster 1995).
|Q: So what happened to all the old growth? Was our appetite for wood so voracious that we logged it all off?||
A few generations ago,
an almost unbroken forest covered the continent...Now those old woods are
every where falling.
--George B. Emerson, 1846
|From settlement onwards, pioneers moved across the state girdling and felling trees to clear fields. Unless a farm was very close to a river, there was no way to get the huge amounts of timber generated by clearing fields to market, so it was almost always burned. The ashes could be harvested for potash, which was used in manufacturing processes such as tanning. Potash brought farmers 5-12 cents a bushel and was an important source of ready cash while farms were being cleared (Williams 1989). Farmers concerned about soil fertility left the ashes on the ground to enrich their fields (Cronon 1983).||
One Hundred Years of Progress
I have heard this bird
sing in several of those groves where I remembered a bare pasture.
It is an era when the wood thrush first sings in a new pine wood.
-- Henry D. Thoreau, 1850s
White pine, which likes to grow in open areas, seeded onto the abandoned
fields and formed solid stands. These stands were becoming mature
around the turn of the century, just in time for a huge demand for pine
boards to be used in making boxes.
|At that time, cardboard did not exist, and products were transported in pine boxes and barrels (Raup, 1966).|
The boxboard boom lasted from 1880 to 1920. During that
time, lumber production in Massachusetts (and Southern New England in general)
hit its peak. Steam-powered saws, which came into common use around
1860, increased mill output by up to 40 times (Williams 1989). Portable
sawmills, which came into use in the late 19th century, reduced the need
to transport bulky logs to distant mills and allowed previously inaccessible
stands to be logged (Dunwiddie et al. 1996). Since the end of the
boxboard boom in the 1920s, there has been no major logging industry in
To see historic logging pictures, click here.
Many of the white pine stands that were logged in the boxboard boom had an understory of hardwoods, such as oaks and maples. In many cases these grew up after the white pines were logged, producing the mixed hardwood secondary forests that are typical of the state's forests today (Raup 1966).
The few sites that were untouched by agricultural clearing or logging are what remain as old-growth forests today. Most of these sites were inaccessible, located in ravines or on steep slopes. Other sites had low value timber and were unsuitable for farming, such as the gnarled and wind blasted oaks that make up the old growth on Mt. Wachusett. These old growth forests are probably not typical of pre-settlement forests, because of the unusual conditions in which most of them are found. However, they are all we have left in the state to learn what our forests can be like without severe human disturbance.
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