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The Southern Appalachians: A History of the Landscape

Informally Refereed
Authors: Susan L. Yarnell
Year: 1998
Type: General Technical Report
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-18. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 52 p.


Natural and geological processes have changed the Southern Appalachian landscape repeatedly over millions of years. About 12,000 years ago, humans arrived and became important agents of change. People affected their environment by hunting, by spreading the seeds of plants they had gathered, by disturbing the vegetation around their habitations, and by increasing the frequency of fires. The extent and degree of human influence increased along with the population. In the Late Archaic period, horticulture expanded the impact of humans on the landscape. The first Europeans and Africans reached the Southern Appalachians in the 1500's. Their arrival disrupted American Indian societies with new forms of trade, warfare, and disease. By the late 1700?s, only the Cherokee remained in the southern mountains. Thereafter, European settlers and African slaves established an economy based on farming, livestock, small-scale industry, and tourism. Market hunting greatly reduced wildlife populations, and grazing livestock affected vegetation. After reversals during the Civil War, mining, lumbering, and tourism emerged as the largest influences on the environment. Deforestation, erosion, pollution, fires, and floods became prevalent. Concern for conservation grew alongside industry, and, by the early 1900?s, both public and private agencies were involved in managing the resources and landscape of the Southern Appalachians. Conservation and resource use have fluctuated throughout the 20 th century in response to economic trends and historical events. Parks and wilderness areas have provided refuges for native plants and animals, whereas in national forests managers have sought to regulate resource extraction. Nevertheless, pressure remains intense on the Southern Appalachian landscape, and management issues bring contention as different groups seek to use the region?s resources in different ways.


Agriculture, environmental history, lumber industry, mining, prehistory, Southern Appalachian, tourism.


Yarnell, Susan L. 1998. The Southern Appalachians: A History of the Landscape. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-18. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 52 p.