Historical Changes in Forest Cover and Land Ownership in a Midwestern U.S. Landscape
Environmental history in the Midwestern Corn Belt includes changes through time in landowners and their consequent effect on agricultural and uncultivated land resources. We examined these changes in Israel Township, southwestern Ohio, using archival accounts from the mid 1800s, land-cover maps compiled from 1935, 1956, and 1984 aerial images, and land-ownership records from 1912, 1940, 1968, 1974, 1983, and 1989 parcel maps. Historical records document the clearing of beech-maple forests for agriculture and show the economic contributions of forests to early settlement. Between 1935 and 1984, agricultural lands declined from 84 percent to 78 percent and forests increased from 10 percent to 19 percent. These are slight changes in comparison with the more than 90 percent of the uncultivated lands that experienced transitions among land uses. We document a decline in land-cover diversity, with losses in successional lands and most forest growth localized to lower stream valleys and Hueston Woods State Park. The amount of land in farms (≥3-ha tracts) declined slightly, from 99 percent to 88 percent, but 79 percent of the land showed two to three changes in landowners and 16 percent showed four to five changes over the study period. Parcels with low turnover had the greatest percent of their land in forest, larger mean forest-patch sizes, and the greatest percent gains in forest area. Our results support coordinated efforts focused on factors that influence stable farm ownership and promote a diversity of environmental and economic gains from forests in the rural landscape.