The Work of Historical Ecology

This piece from the <em>San Francisco Chronicle</em> takes readers inside the world of a historical ecologists -- one who tries to document what landscapes used to be and how they've evolved over time.
March 30, 2009, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Grossinger is a historical ecologist, merging history and ecology to figure out the environments of our great, and great-great-great grandparents. When he compares those landscapes with the present, he turns up surprise after surprise - streams that weren't streams, wetlands where there used to be beaches, thick groves of trees where there used to be plains and plains where there used to be thick groves of trees."

"A lot of ecology that was around two centuries ago has been forgotten. Grossinger surveys Bay Area landscapes you think you know, and then tells you what they looked like 200 years ago - what early explorers said about them, how early cartographers drew them and, most importantly, what elements from that early picture could be brought back. Even as he talks, though, Grossinger is not down on urbanization. His projects tend to suggest ways that nature can be realistically reintegrated with the modern landscape, rather than waxing nostalgic."

"'It seems like historical ecology is sort of a sentimental exercise, but it's really about understanding the contemporary landscape,' Grossinger said. 'The landscape you kind of inherit and don't really have the tools to decipher.'"

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Published on Friday, March 27, 2009 in San Francisco Chronicle
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