Technical Bulletins & Special Reports

Special Report No. 06-01: Natural History and Land Use History of Cumberland Plateau Forests in Tennessee

<p align="justify">This report reviews the natural history of the Cumberland Plateau and the effects of human activities on Plateau forests in Tennessee. Information is synthesized by considering the physiography of the Plateau and the history of human influence on Plateau forests both pre- and post-European settlement. We also provide an intensive analysis of six cycles (1950-1999) of USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data for the 16-county Cumberland Plateau survey unit. <br /><br />The Plateau occupies more than two million acres in Tennessee. It can be divided into two parts: the Plateau surface and the escarpment. The surface and south-facing escarpment support forest types that tolerate dry conditions including pines, oaks, and mixtures of pines and hardwoods. Soil productivity is moderate to poor and tree growth is generally slow. These sites have a propensity to burn with frequencies and intensities that maintain disturbance-dependent species such as pines. The north-facing escarpment, upland depressions, and coves provide more mesic conditions for hardwood growth. Here fires are less frequent and less intense. <br /><br />Harsh environmental conditions and inaccessibility limited human population growth and development on the Plateau. Native Americans used the Plateau mainly for hunting and other endeavors during the warmer months and generally did not build villages on the Plateau. Europeans also found that making a subsistence living on the Plateau was difficult and few people permanently inhabited the area initially. <br /><br />The Cumberland Plateau, because of its location and topography, inhibited migrations from east to west. Western migration was predominantly via the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, not across the Plateau.</p>