Michigan State University

What is the natural vegetation in your neighborhood?

Kathleen Weessies

Presettlement vegetation in the Mason, MI areaBeginning in the nineteenth century, immigrants to Michigan massively changed the landscape through logging, farming, draining wetlands, building roads, cities, and planting managed landscapes.  Prior to that Native Americans used fire and other methods to alter the landscape, though on a much smaller scale.  When you stand in your front yard, the 'natural' vegetation you see is likely quite different from what stood in 1800 especially if you live in the southern part of the state.  So what kinds of trees or other landcover naturally grew in your area long ago?  A group of scholars teamed up with several government agencies to reconstruct the natural landcover of Michigan using General Land Office survey notes.  

At their interactive website, you can type in an address and see the presettlement vegetation in your area. 

Michigan DNR Presettlement Vegetation Map Viewer on ArcGIS 

  1. Type a city or address into the search box (must be zoomed in to view the presettlement vegetation)
  2. Click the 'Content' button and the 3 dots and choose Transparency.  Adjust the transparency so you can see modern roads and features through the map
  3. Click the legend button to see the map legend.
  4. Click in any location to get a pop-up showing details for that place
  5. Enjoy!

Arconline options

Further Reading:

Vegetation of Michigan circa 1800: An Interpretion of the General Land Office Surveys 1816-1856. MNFI Report 1995-006


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