The U.S. Public Land Survey (PLS) notebooks are one of the best records of the pre-European settlement landscape and are widely used to recreate presettlement vegetation maps. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relative ability of several interpolation techniques to map this vegetation, as sampled by the PLS surveyors, at the landscape level. Field data from Sylvania Wilderness Area, MI (U.S.A.), sampled at the same scale as the PLS data, were used for this test. Sylvania is comprised of a forested landscape similar to that present during presettlement times. Data were analyzed using two Arc/Info interpolation processes and indicator kriging. The resulting maps were compared to a 'correct' map of Sylvania, which was classified from aerial photographs. We found that while the interpolation methods used accurately estimated the relative forest composition of the landscape and the order of dominance of different vegetation types, they were unable to accurately estimate the actual area occupied by each vegetation type. Nor were any of the methods we tested able to recreate the landscape patterns found in the natural landscape. The most likely cause for these inabilities is the scale at which the field data (and hence the PLS data) were recorded. Therefore, these interpolation methods should not be used with the PLS data to recreate pre-European settlement vegetation at small scales (e.g., less than several townships or areas < 104 ha). Recommendations are given for ways to increase the accuracy of these vegetation maps.
Additional publication details
Testing methods to produce landscape-scale presettlement vegetation maps from the U.S. public land survey records