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Book review of America's Ancient Forests : From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery

America's Ancient Forests : From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery
Reviewed by Ariadne Unst.

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America's Ancient Forests, by Thomas M. Bonnicksen, presents the story of North America's forests, unfolding their dynamic history from the glaciers of the Ice Age to the beginning of the Age of Discovery.

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Forests dance (or battle!) with ice!

First things first—buy this book:

Bonnicksen's America's Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery tells how forests have ebbed and flowed across North America in response to the advances and retreats of the ice sheets of the Ice Ages.

Trees have migrated southward and northward, assembling ancient and then modern forests.

Forests reflect the history and the pre-history of Earth. They show the influences of the huge glaciation cycles, and the effects of fires and storms.

To understand forests is to understand not only the science and the dynamics of earth. It is also to understand the effects on the earth of the people who have lived upon it.

So, Bonnicksen ends the first half of his book with a rich chapter on the influence of the original native people on the forests. They did this particularly through fire setting and control, especially to support their cultural practices of hunting and agriculture.

In the second half, Bonnicksen gives a lively and dynamic historical narrative, enriched by "I was there" quotes from the first European explorers on the massive and ancient trees in the beautiful open forests that they found at first contact.

At the discovery of North America by the Europeans, the North American forests grew across almost half the continent. These forests have mostly been cut down by the Europeans, leaving little remaining glory.

Nonetheless efforts are underway to bring back some of the diverse ecosystems of that era. This book provides essential information that scientists can use for forest restoration and conservation projects.

As reviewer Robert W. Wernerehl wrote, "This book could have been titled America's Ancient Landscapes. ... it deals with all types of landscapes: prairies, barrens, savannas, and all types of wetlands, as well as forests. ... This is a great reference work. If you can't afford it, get your local library to purchase a copy. I did!"

Professor Bonnicksen teaches in the Department of Forest Science at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.

Part One of America's Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery.

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The earliest tamers of the North American wilderness were the Paleoindians Indians that swept across the Americas as the Clovis hunters, with the long, sharpened hunting stones that they fixed to spears. They hunted and they gathered, and began to harvest the forests.

The sixth chapter describes how the American Indians managed the trees of North America. As Julia Parker (a Kashia Pomo) is quoted: " 'We take from the earth and say please. We give back to the earth and say thank you.' "

The seventh and final chapter in this section shows how the Paleoindians -- the inhabitants of North America when the Europeans arrived -- were masters of fire. With this tool, they opened up the forests, which helped the forests as well as the Paleoindians thrive.

See more details of Part One.

Part Two of America's Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery.

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At the European discovery of North America, the North American forests covered about 45% of the continent. Trees were immense and much older than trees remaining in Europe, and the forests were open and easy to travel through. Check out Bonnicksen's excellent book on America's Ancient Forests to learn about North America's forests in the last few centuries.

The European discovery of North America lasted for centuries, starting with the Spanish. At contact, North American forests covered about 45% of the continent. Trees were seen to be immensely larger and older than trees remaining in Europe. Because of the selective use of fire by the Indians, the Europeans found that the forests were open and easy to travel through.

Initially, the Spanish explored the south, southwest, California, and the plains of Kansas. Then the English and Dutch explored the eastern coastal regions, followed by the French, whose trappers and priests explored region of the Great Lakes, the interior of Canada, and the Mississippi River.

Part Two, then, explores the forests that the different European groups moved through and altered as they entered North America. The forests that we see today, and in many places the lack of forests, are a legacy from those explorers.

See more on Part Two.

The Rich Reference Material of the Ancient Forests.

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The book concludes with:

Links and References.

Resources - Related pages.

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