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Old deeds, witness trees offer glimpse of pre-settlement forest in West Virginia
Date:9/12/2012

PARSONS, W. Va., September 12, 2012 Using old deeds and witness trees, a U.S. Forest Service scientist has created a glimpse of the composition of the forests that covered today's Monongahela National Forest before settlement and logging changed the landscape.

"European Settlement-Era Vegetation of the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia" describes how a Forest Service scientist and her West Virginia University colleague answered questions about the composition of early forests using a unique dataset. The dataset was built with original deeds, metes and bounds surveys and a digitized, georeferenced version of parcel maps based on those surveys. The report is published by the Forest Service's Northern Research Station as General Technical Report NRS-101 and is available online at: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/gtr/gtr_nrs101.pdf

"This study is extraordinary in its combination of historical documents and scientific method," said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station. "It is not every day that our work is aided by colonial America surveyors."

Trees were part of the available technology in early land surveys. Metes and bounds surveys consist of a series of bearings and distances with trees, posts, rock piles, or natural features recorded to describe corners where bearings changed. Trees used to mark the corner or near-corner of a parcel are called "witness trees." By identifying the witness trees, deeds and grants documenting transfer of ownership of these parcels also documented tree species existing at the time land changed hands.

The use of old deeds is not a new technique in forest research, but Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy, a U.S. Forest Service research forester and the study's lead author, based this study on a larger number of points than has been used previously and used a different approach in analyzing the data. <
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Contact: Jane Hodgins
jmhodgins@fs.fed.us
651-649-5281
USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station
Source:Eurekalert

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