How far could a squirrel travel in the treetops? A prehistory of the southern forest
Conservation activities aimed at protecting old-growth forests; at maintaining populations of desired species groups, such as oaks (Quercus sp.), wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), other game species or Neotropical migratory birds; and at increasing populations of endangered species, such as red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis), Bachman's warblers (Verrnivora bachmanii), Louisiana black bears (Ursus americanus luteolus), and Tennessee coneflowers (Echinacea tennesseensis), require a target environment. This target, often viewed as the environment at some specified past time, becomes the desired future condition. If the target can be considered a stable ecosystem that is self-perpetuating under control of natural processes, the envisioned environment is a defendable "natural" target for land-use planning. If the target is not easily regarded as "natural," but must involve cultural intervention for its appearance or persistence, the planning process must derive a target environment by some other method, one more clearly reflective of the values of the planners themselves. The authors’ purpose in this paper is to suggest time periods as potential candidates for the "original" or "natural" condition of the southern forest and to evaluate the forest conditions at those times in light of knowledge of past geological and cultural conditions.