Forests on the Domain of Southeast Tennessee

The Forests of the Domain

The Forest Stewards Guild has long had a connection with the unique and historic forest at the University of the South in Sewanee Tennessee known as “The Domain.” Sewanee, as the University is commonly known, sits on a prominent overlook on the southern extent of the Cumberland Plateau, and was the location of a Guild national meeting in 2003. Our connection remains strong today thanks to the work of two of our long-time members.   

Dr. Ken Smith (a member of the Guild’s Board of Directors) serves as the University Forester, coordinating research and forest practice throughout the 13,000 acre forest. Guild member Nate Wilson serves as the Domain Manager, and guides both forestry, recreation, and water resources management among other duties.  

In October, Guild Executive Director Fred Clark joined Smith and Wilson for a visit to Sewanee and a chance to meet students and faculty at Sewanee, and to tour the Domain forest.

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.  

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, Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenk, traveled to Sewanee to take a look. Later that year, based on a preliminary inventory from Dr. Schenk, the first Domain forest plan was developed, focusing on slowing the abuse of the land by regulating timber cutting and grazing. The 1899 plan, together with the 1903 follow-up plan set the stage for the diverse land base at Sewanee today. For a more complete history of these early years, read 2004 Eminent Domain, by Char Miller.

Forest Planning and Learning Go Together 

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.

Students at Sewanee have the opportunity to participate in several areas of planning  On the Domain, the 2012 Domain Strategy White Paper set out goals by which the Domain is to be managed. Those goals are being implemented on multiple scales and students are involved in all of them.  

A Forest Learning Laboratory 

With its size, relative isolation, and myriad programs in both science and the arts, Sewanee provides a unique opportunity to link a large working forest to a small University and a surrounding community.  

For example, the Sewanee wastewater utility manages wastewater treatment for the entire community through an innovative biological treatment that includes an irrigation system delivering treated effluent onto 57 acres of forest surrounding the treatment ponds. University foresters have worked closely with engineers to design the system which exceeds all state and federal permit requirements.   

The forest at Sewanee and the school’s forestry program are embedded within a larger community of people and land that features collaboration and integrated thinking at all levels. It’s an inspiring model for meeting natural resources challenges of the future.