The Deforestation and Colonization of the United States

Old Growth Forest and Unceded Indigenous Land in the Continental United States. Map by Jordan Engel

The transformation of the natural and cultural landscape of North America is the result of centuries of settler colonialism, resulting in one of the largest genocides and ecocides the world has ever witnessed. Since 1600, 90% of the old-growth forests that once were expansive over the Continental US have been burned, logged, and cleared away. Concurrently, 90% of the land that was once occupied by Native American tribes has been taken by colonial powers.

We’ve lost countless species like the Carolina Parakeet and Eastern Elk, and languages like Mohican and Catawba, and these extinctions are not unrelated events. Nor is it a coincidence that the Mountain Pine Beetle is today ravishing the forests of the West where Native Americans once prevented outbreaks like that from happening by routinely burning the land to regulate wild forage production. Here we see the cycle of causation from declining biodiversity to declining cultural diversity, and vice versa, because of the interconnectedness of human and natural systems.



  1. This man has a problem with change. It has been going on for Billions of years. I guess the dinosaurs are the original owners and everything or one else is a colonialist. Get a life


  2. It is most probably true, in as much as logic can follow through. Although much of the depopulation of the eastern section of north America was due to disease and epidemics, nowadays all much of that is forgotten and not even mention that the colonists took over, fields, forested lands without permission from the survivors. Manifest Destiny is the term used to justify the “taking over of native lands ” during that time, 16th, 17th, 18th, a19th and 20 th centuries.


  3. This is a bit misleading regarding the East Coast. Most of that land was not formally ceeded. Instead the mass epidemics of the 16th and 17th centuries killed much of the population. The colonial settlers moved in and took over fields, forest lands, etc without bothering to get permission from the survivors.


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