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Farmed Out

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If you traveled back in time a century (or even two), one of the most shocking things you’d notice in Westchester would be something that was missing: trees.

County agricultural experts say that, a century ago, when much of Westchester was still agrarian, virtually the entire county would have been clear-cut. One of the strongest pieces of evidence for this is the fact that no first-growth forest remains in the entire region (first-growth forest is woods that have never been cut for timber or any other purpose since the area was settled).

According to Andrew Hubbard of the Watershed Agricultural Council, it is estimated that, in the 1620s, the then little-settled region was 90- to 95-percent forested. “But by the mid eighteen hundreds, fifty-four percent of the entire New York State was cleared for agriculture,” he reports. “Areas like Westchester would have been cleared to a much higher percentage due to topography, soils, and location.”

A switch from farming to residential use changed all that. In 2001, a land cover study of the Croton Watershed found that 61 percent of the county was forested. Statistics are hard to come by for the last few decades, so it’s hard to know when the re-growth peaked. Unfortunately, increased residential and commercial development, diseases such as Dutch elm, and deer overpopulation are reversing that trend and beating back Mother Nature’s gains.

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