"Nature is Pushing One Way and People are Pushing the Other": A Political Ecology of Forest Transitions in Western Montgomery County, PA
Patrick T. Hurley
Patrick T. Hurley
Laura Taylor, York University
This paper has met the requirements for Distinguished Honors
Forests in Southeastern Pennsylvania have been shaped by a number of anthropocentric factors over the past century, with many areas experiencing a recent trend towards forest recovery. Studies on forest dynamics have shown that most developed regions exhibit a forest transition, which begins when land is cleared for natural resource extraction (e.g., agriculture, forestry) during an early development stage. Then as a population grows and food production needs are met, rural peoples begin to migrate to the city, and a feeling of scarcity of trees develops that may lead to changes in land management attitudes, and many formerly deforested areas begin a process of forest recovery (Mather 1992, Rudel et al 2005). This process often occurs in conjunction with industrialization in nearby cities. Yet recent research also finds that many areas experience a different trajectory of forest change (Yeo and Huang 2013), or no noticeable transition (Acheson 2008). In such cases, questions arise about whether a forest management policy, rather than feelings of scarcity, promotes reforestation (Yeo and Huang 2013). In addition, the question of whether second home and amenity development - an increasing trend in residential development at the urban-rural fringe - is counteracting efforts to reforest in other areas arises (Acheson 2008).
My research investigated the trajectory of forest change in a historically rural agricultural landscape as it has transitioned over time to an amenity-oriented exurban residential area. This study also explores how current residents of this landscape are altering the forest through their perspectives on land management and stewardship practices. My case study focuses on the historically rural Stone Hill Conservation Landscape, a largely agricultural productivist landscape in the mid-1900s, located just outside the Borough of Schwenksville in western Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Drawing on grounded visualization approaches used in case studies of rural-to-urban transitions, I documented the interactions of exurbanites on forest transitions in the area. In order to better understand this migration and current stewardship practices in the area, I conducted semi structured interviews with eight residents living adjacent to one of the Conservation Landscape's preserves. These interviews focused on the residents' motivations for migrating, land management strategies regarding practices such as planting, cutting trees, removing weeds, and establishing lawn, and their views on development in Stone Hill. Their diverse perspectives placed them into three different categories; suburban idyll, pastoral/rural idyll, and nature/forest idyll. Then, using Google Earth aerial photo analysis, I documented the overall trend of reforestation in some of the study area while detailing reforestation and efforts by some exurbanites to minimize their impacts on forest loss. Results demonstrate that the attitudes and stewardship practices of exurban amenity migrants have a noticeable effect on the forest transition occurring in Stone Hill. It is important to understand this exurban forest transition because it contributes to the minimal existing literature on forest transitions in exurban landscapes of the Mid-Atlantic. Further it is important from a conservation perspective because these insights provide us with forest histories as well as a foreshadowing of possible clearing for further exurban development.
Maccaroni, Megan Elizabeth, ""Nature is Pushing One Way and People are Pushing the Other": A Political Ecology of Forest Transitions in Western Montgomery County, PA" (2014). Environmental Studies Honors Papers. 5.
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