Forest Removal in the Georgia Mountains
The Mississippian Period mound builders, whose presence declined in the sixteenth century with the arrival of Hernando de Soto, cleared large swaths of mountain river valleys, such as the Etowah and Coosawattee, for agricultural and settlement purposes. They left the mountains themselves covered with old-growth forests, that is, in a basically primeval condition, subjected to little or no human interference. This forest was diverse, with such large trees as the American chestnut dominating the
These early settlers, whose farms were generally about half forested, logged primarily for their own uses, employing such draft animals as oxen and mules. When they did engage in commercial timbering, their logging techniques were for the most part sustainable, leaving the soil in a condition that enabled the forest to reproduce itself and thus not heavily affecting the land. The homesteaders generally practiced single-tree selection, used nonmechanized equipment, and had a knowledge of and respect for the land.
Industrial Forest Removal
Beginning around 1880, large timber companies composed primarily of northern industrialists flocked to the South to buy tens of thousands of acres at rock-bottom prices. Timber companies bought thousands of acres in north Georgia for a few dollars an acre, mainly from poor mountain farmers who had little education or experience with the cash economy of the industrialists and thus were easily taken advantage of.
These logging techniques, still in use today, stripped almost every mountain watershed and wreaked havoc on mountain wildlife and fisheries. Local economies, once self-sufficient, found themselves in decline; the number of lumber mills in north Georgia dropped drastically between 1909 and 1919. The economic catastrophe was accompanied by a decline in farming and mountain population.
Iron ore mining also contributed heavily to forest removal in northwest Georgia. This activity occurred primarily in the Ridge and Valley region stretching from Dalton to Rome. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, speculators, chiefly northeastern industrialists, mined coal and iron extensively in Dade and Walker counties, and logged the ridges for timber to make charcoal for smelting the iron ore. In 1924 Georgia's state geologist declared that the stripped landscape had lost its potential, making it a prime candidate for inclusion in the emerging national forest system in the Southeast.
The result of the Weeks Act for
The forest service also began to draw criticism from the public over its timbering practices. Originally created to be a model of stewardship, the forest service shifted in the 1950s to many of the timbering practices it had originally opposed, including clear-cutting. It also logged almost all remaining old-growth forest in north Georgia. As much as one-third of the forest land in north Georgia, it has been estimated, was virgin timber when the forest service acquired it. At the beginning of the twenty-first century virgin stands probably cover less than 2 percent of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Chris Bolgiano, The Appalachian Forest: A Search for Roots and Renewal (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1998).
Donald E. Davis, Where There Are Mountains: An Environmental History of the Southern Appalachians (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000).
Brent Martin, Georgia Forest Watch
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.