The ecological diversity and beauty of the Domain is no accident. Today's forest traces its roots back over 100 years to a time when forest conservation and planning were unheard of in the region, and only beginning to be discussed nationally. Sewanee leadership during those early years of forest conservation set the stage for the Domain of today.
From the time of the University's founding in 1857, the vast landholdings of the Domain have sustained the institution. Early buildings were built using stone and lumber harvested on the property, animals grazing in the forest were used to feed the growing population, and harvests of firewood and coal heated the homes of the entire institution. At the same time, surpluses of these same natural resources were sold regionally to support the institution financially, and the theft of timber and coal from the Domain was rampant. By the end of the 18th Century, much of the Domain had been cut over, burned and grazed to such an extent that then historian George Fairbanks wrote: "Ignorant or willful wielders of the axe, disregarding all instructions or contracts marred and destroyed large portions of the original forest growth." This early use (and overuse) of the Domain prompted Vice Chancellor Wiggins to seek advice on management of the forest. He soon learned that he was not alone in his concerns regarding forest health and set out to establish Sewanee as a leader in this new conservation ethic.
In 1899, the University asked the newly formed United States Bureau of Forestry for forest management advice. Two of the most prominent foresters in the country at that time, Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenk, traveled to Sewanee to review the Domain. Later that year, based on a preliminary inventory from Dr. Schenk, the first Domain plan was submitted to Vice Chancellor Wiggins. This first plan was focused on slowing the abuse of the land by regulating cutting and grazing on the Domain. The 1899 plan, together with the 1903 follow-up plan, which was much more widely circulated, set the stage for the diverse land base we see today. For a more complete history of these early years, read 2004 Eminent Domain, by Char Miller.
Over the 117 years that have passed since that first planning effort, the University has written at least eight forest management plans. Each of those plans set out goals based on the priorities of the institution at the time, but all had a common thread to maximize the educational value for students.