Historically, Overpopulation Means Fewer Trees on Earth

Homer speaks frequently of “wooded Samothrace” or the “tall pines and oaks of Sicily,” but these woodlands had largely disappeared from the ancient world. The forests had been cleared by man, and his sheep and goats and cattle had altered forever the nature of the landscape bordering parts of the Mediterranean and Aegean. Even at the time of Greece’s glory, Plato was writing that “What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having been wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left.”

Of an estimated 400,000 square miles of virgin forest that once covered the eastern half of the United States, less than 2,000 square miles might be said to remain in anything like their primeval state. Only the more inaccessible reaches of the Appalachians and a few small scattered areas elsewhere are left to suggest what the whole region was like. For almost the first 200 years of American settlement, pioneers claimed a farmstead by hacking one out of the forest, cutting down trees so large a person might chop for several days before felling one. At best, the pioneer farmer could clear a few acres each year, and one reason so many of the huge trees were girdled was to save the backbreaking toil of swinging an ax day after day.

The above is excerpted from the book, The Secret Life of the Forest, by Richard M. Ketchum.

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