We review the historical and current status of forests in the Hoosier-Shawnee Ecological Assessment Area. Native American people influenced the vegetation through fire and agricultural clearing across the region until the early 1800s when European settlers arrived. Clearing of the land for agriculture peaked in the early 1900s after which badly eroded land was abandoned and either planted or naturally regenerated to forest. Many of these abandoned farms were purchased for public parks and forests and managed as timberlands throughout the 20th century. Today, about 43 percent of the landscape is covered by forest and 49 percent in agriculture. Land use varies across the region depending on its suitability for nonforest use. For instance, much of the uplands across the assessment area, including the Ozark Highlands, Interior Low Plateau, Shawnee Hills (hereafter ?Shawnee Hills?), and Interior Low Plateau, Highland Rim (hereafter ?Highland Rim?) Sections are dominated by forest land. In contrast, much of the best lands are privately held and support agricultural activities. Forests are mostly temperate deciduous hardwoods with coniferous forests covering only 8 percent of the forest area. Forests are currently dominated by oak and hickory species that cover about 40 percent of the forest area. However, species composition is changing from species established as the result of frequent past disturbances (<1950) to more shade tolerant species as the result of the decreased disturbance regimes of the late 20th century (>1950). There is concern about the loss of landscape diversity and maintenance of oak species as these shifts occur, and current management activities are being implemented to reduce this transition.
Parker, George R.; Ruffner, Charles M. 2004. Current and historical forest conditions and disturbance regimes in the Hoosier-Shawnee ecological assessment area. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-244. St. Paul, MN: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Research Station. 267 p.