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150 Years of Environmental Degradation and Reclamation in the Copper Basin, Tennessee

From: Southeastern Geographer
Volume 39, Number 1, May 1999
pp. 1-21 | 10.1353/sgo.1999.0008



The Copper Basin, Tennessee, is unique in the southeastern United States for the extent and persistence of its treeless landscape. Reclamation has been slow and costly, but the basin has finally lost the appearance of a desert and is now green again. Reviewing the environmental history of the Copper Basin since 1847, we find a treeless landscape to have resulted and persisted due to a set of interrelated human activities that included grazing, burning, building, and charcoal-production as well as mining and sulfuric-acid recovery. Reclamation efforts, chronicled in this paper, became increasingly successful after the 1970s as a result of new techniques and sheer effort. Reclamation focused primarily on reducing erosion and downstream sedimentation until recently, when other water quality issues have received increased attention. Changing land ownership in the basin threatens to reverse some of the changes achieved by reclamation projects.

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