Did you know that the eastern forest was also managed with fire
in much the same way as the plains? Forests without the understory
made it easier to get around for hunting and foraging. Where clearings
had been burnt, lush young vegetation provided ample food for
wildlife. The earliest Europeans describe a forest along the coast
that was "park-like." They of course went about cutting it mercilessly,
just as they had in Europe!
One author -- the name escapes me -- talks about how western men created civilization by first cutting the forests. First in Europe and finally in eastern North America. Thats why when they finally reached the prairie they didn't know what to do. How do you civilize an untreed place? Anyway this author went on to corrolate the tree-cutting instinct to the modern-day American obsession with lawns.
The really interesting thing about all this is the re-forestation of the northeast in the second half of the 20th Century. What does it mean for western civilization, which (based on eradicating forests) when the forests return. Sure, on the surface level it only means that agriculture is taking place in the flatlands where it is more profitable. But when the tree canopy closes over the earth and the cougars come home, it has to affect our culture -- at least on some mythic level.
Faith Ingulsrud (my sister) 6/13/98