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The re-established forests of the Upper Delaware are a living reminder of centuries of both exploitation and good intentions. Emerging after the last glaciation, they were first modified by Native Americans to promote hunting and limited agriculture. The forests began to disappear as European settlers clear-cut farmland and fed sawmills and tanneries. The advent of the railroad accelerated demand and within 30 years industry consumed virtually every mature tree in the valley, leaving barren hillsides subject to erosion and flooding. As unchecked cutting continued, conservation efforts began to save what little remained. A century and a half later, a forest for the 21st century has emerged – an ecological patchwork protected by a web of governmental agencies, yet still subject to danger from humans.
Robert Kuhn McGregor, emeritus professor of history at the University of Illinois-Springfield, taught environmental history, early American history, and the history of popular culture, including a course on baseball. He lives in Corning, New York.