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Southern mesic upland forest

Southern mesic upland forest

Rise of the timber industry
In the mid-1850s, both the developing rail system and steamboats used wood for fuel. Timber companies and railroads cut down many of the forests along the large, navigable rivers and those along railroads as they harvested timber for mines, mine timbers, and railroad ties. 

From approximately 1860 through 1900, Illinois had a considerable lumber industry. Annual production was more than 350 million board feet (one board foot equals one square foot of wood one inch thick). That is more than twice what production is today. 

Many Forests were cut down
By 1870, only 6 million acres of Illinois were forested, compared with 13.8 million forested acres prior to European settlement. Demand had been so great during this period of settlement from 1850 to 1870 that the forests in many areas were completely cut down, either for agriculture or timber. 

Lumber supported the rapid growth of urban centers and a host of industries in Illinois. Trees from the Cache River area at the southern tip of the state were harvested to rebuild Chicago after it was destroyed by fire in 1871. 

Timber in the twentieth century
By 1923, only twenty-two thousand acres of undisturbed Illinois forests remained. Lumber production declined dramatically in the years between 1900 and 1923, as deforestation in the state progressed. In addition to the loss of the wood resource, deforestation resulted in reduced wildlife habitat and increased soil erosion. 

In the 1940s many pastures and forage croplands were converted as farmers shifted from cattle to row-crop production. Undoubtedly, many wooded pastures were cleared, but that loss was softened by the fact that abandoned hayfields and some of the pastures unsuitable for row crops were colonized by second growth forests.


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