Vermont’s sheep boom led to deforestation as thousands of sheep were put to pasture in the hills. Upon seeing the environmental impact, George Perkins Marsh wrote Man and Nature (1862), a warning about the impacts of clear-cutting the land. This lesson combines informational text and visual images that help students understand how agriculture changes the environment.

Focusing Question

How did sheep farming change the land?

Topical Understandings

William Jarvis imported merino sheep to Vermont and New Hampshire, which were highly profitable because of their hardy nature and fine wool.

Sheep require lots of pasture, which led to the gradual deforestation of Vermont. By the time the sheep boom ended in the 1850s, 70% of Vermont land had been cleared.

George Perkins Marsh was an important environmentalist who warned of the environmental consequences of deforestation.

Background Information

Village Life Essay


Informational Text

Excerpts from Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels
Excerpts from Man and Nature by George Perkins
Reading the Forested Landscape worksheet
George Perkins Marsh worksheet

Primary Sources

Painting: An Early Settler Clears a Forest
Painting: Height of Forest Clearing and Agriculture
Photograph: Montpelier in the late nineteenth century
Visual Thinking Visual Thinking Worksheet: An Early Settler Clears the Forest and Visual Thinking Worksheet: Height of Forest Clearing


  1. As a class use visual thinking strategies to analyze the “Early Settler” and “Height of Forest Clearing and Agriculture” dioramas. Summarize the two eras of farming and create a list of questions or hypothesize about why the land might look so different in the second image.
  2. Provide students with the excerpts from Reading the Forested Landscape and the accompanying note-taking worksheets. Discuss their answers and summarize farming during early settlement as compared to the time of the sheep boom.
  3. What were some pros and cons to the sheep boom? For farmers? For the land?
  4. Provide students with the excerpt from George Perkins Marsh and the accompanying note-taking worksheet.
  5. Discuss the quote as a class. Ask how students might change their list of pros and cons.