Colonial impacts to wetlands in Lebanon, Connecticut
Published:January 01, 1998
Robert M. Thorson, Andrew G. Harris, Sandra L. Harris, Robert Gradie, III, M. W. Lefor, 1998. "Colonial impacts to wetlands in Lebanon, Connecticut", A Paradox of Power, Charles W. Welby, Monica E. Gowan
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The expansion and contraction of the agricultural economy in Lebanon, Connecticut, a seventeenth century New England colonial village, was associated first with conversion of “wilderness” to a pastoral landscape, and later with nearly whole-scale reforestation. Freshwater wetlands throughout the area were strongly impacted by this discrete pulse of landscape disturbance, but the response of each wetland to local and upstream land use was site specific. The individualistic nature of wetland responses can be understood only by treating the drainage basin as a linked physical system that integrates geomorphic processes in a downstream direction.
Our study is based on the historical geography of 61 wetlands within a very small watershed (Susquetonscut Brook; 14 km2), on the stratigraphy of 18 widely distributed sites (as interpreted from conventional geomorphic, lithologic, radiocarbon, and pollen techniques), and on numerical modeling of historic flood discharges. Our results indicate that (1) presettlement wetlands were strongly impacted either directly or indirectly by English land-use practices; (2) the hydrogeologic setting of each wetland was responsible for either mitigating or amplifying these impacts at downstream sites; (3) the pulse of disturbance from the colonial period (1695-1787) continues to govern the modern sediment budget, flood regime, and riparian habitat of wetlands and watercourses throughout the area; (4) wetland impacts from Native American populations were not significant enough to be detected by our study; and (5) although many swamps were drained by the colonists, these wetland losses were more than offset by the amount of wetlands created.
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A Paradox of Power
The 13 papers in this volume illustrate issues and opportunities confronting geologists as they bring their knowledge and understanding to bear in matters related to public health and welfare. Public decisions and decision-making processes in the face of geologic complexity and uncertainty are the subject of the first group of papers. In the second group, several “voice of warning” papers illustrate the use of geologic knowledge and research to warn the public of health hazards derived from geologic materials and processes. A third group of papers, in the “voice of reason” section, describes use of geologic knowledge to help lower the costs of mitigation and avoidance of geologic hazards. Finally, ethical and philosophical questions confronting geoscientists are discussed and issues of “truth” as related to the legal process and questions about the adequacy of information in making decisions about long-term radioactive waste disposal are discussed.