Submitted By Sean McKenzie, C'11
How has the Sewanee forest changed over the last half of a century? What events precipitated this change? Is there a link between human activities on the Domain and the changing composition of domain forests? Just how much have human activities been a part of the history of the Domain? These are the questions that the Sewanee Forest History Project of the Landscape Analysis Lab set out to answer and now, after three years, we have some answers.
The Sewanee Forest History Project began in the summer of 2008 with the digitization of over 3,500 documents from the files of the Office of Domain Management. Project members have since been poring over these documents to extract information about how the Domain was used and how the forests of the Domain have changed over a period of record stretching back over 60 years. In the first research paper extracted from this information we have catalogued changing forest composition from 1952 to 2001 using forest inventory data taken by the Forestry Department. Additionally we have compiled a record of timber harvests on the domain since 1945 in order to examine how the logging history of plateau stands has affected forest composition change.
Overall, we found that Sewanee forests have seen massive changes in composition over the last half-century. Logging seems to have played some sort of role in this change, at least influencing the direction of the change if not responsible for the overall change itself. Logging was extremely prevalent over the whole domain - outside of Dick Cove and a few inaccessible corners of Shakerag and Browers Hollows, no area has been logging free and several areas have been cut 10 different times.
Forest change at Sewanee has many interesting facets, but perhaps most interesting has been the change in upland canopy dominance - a “tale of three oaks.” In 1952 scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) was the most abundant tree species all across the plateau. As seen across the southeast, red oaks (Quercus sect. Lobatae) have seen major declines recently, and on the uplands at Sewanee white oaks (Quercus sect. Quercus) have been replacing the dwindling scarlet oak. However, which white oak species is becoming dominant seems to be influenced by logging history; where logging has been less frequent but more intense, chestnut oak (Quercus montana) has dominated while white oak (Quercus alba) has taken over forests harvested more frequently but less intensely.
All of the data used in this study is now on file with the Sewanee Forest History Project at the Landscape Analysis Lab and is available to any student or faculty interested in using it for research. In addition to inventory records from 1952, 1978, and 2001 and maps of all harvests on the domain between 1945 and 2000 we have pine plantations planting records and maps, management plans and records since 1933, and study reports from research on the domain since 1941. We on the SFHP are excited about the manifold possibilities of academic uses for this data!