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.