DEEP: The Shaping of the Forests

The Shaping of the Forests

In comparison to all other influences in the forests of Connecticut since the retreat of the glacier over 12,000 years ago, humans have had the most significant impact. Most people would think that the clearing of the forest by the European settlers was the earliest human influence on the forest, but humans have been at work in these forests for much, much longer than that!

  {Prescribed burn at Naugatuck State Forest}

From the time the Native Americans returned after the glacial period, they used fire to create a forest that better suited their needs. Native Americans burned the forest to improve habitat for game animals, to increase berry production, to enhance firewood and acorn production, to make it easier to travel through the forest, to make hunting easier and to clear land for agriculture. By their frequent and widespread use of fire, Native Americans were responsible for creating and maintaining much diversity throughout the forests of the region.

Connecticut’s landscape has changed dramatically over the centuries. Devastating natural disasters, fire and our human appetite for forest products have altered the forest. European settlers cleared the forest they found because they needed land for grazing, wood to warm their homes and to fuel their industries. They kept clearing the forest until the early 1800s – to a point where nearly 80% of Connecticut had been transformed into agricultural fields. It wasn’t until the late 1800s, when Connecticut’s farmers began to abandon their farms to move west or to seek steady employment in the cities, that the forest began to reclaim the countryside. Today, a dramatically different forest has returned. Today’s forest is less diverse in age, species, and cover types – and yet, this is an era when millions of Connecticut people look to the forests to fulfill a spectrum of social and economic needs unprecedented in history.