Denmark and St. Croix's Environment
The largest environmental change that took place on this island in the last millennium after the Danish purchase of St. Croix from France in 1733 was the logging of the forests that covered much of the island. The French had already started in their unsuccessful attempt to create profitable sugar cane plantations, but the Danish clearing was far more extensive, making two thirds of St. Croix into sugar cane and, to a lesser degree, cotton fields. Some of the hardwoods harvested here were used locally but primarily exported to Denmark as well as to other islands less richly endowed with trees. Ultimately, this change of scenery was instrumental in bringing about a climate change towards less rainfall, which over time eliminated many streams that appeared on maps of former days. Today, only during prolonged periods of heavy rainfall will those streams reappear.
A less significant, but rather interesting, introduction by the Danes to the environment was that of the white-tailed deer, which according to the late naturalist George Seaman appear to have been brought here around 1790 in the modest quantity of five specimens, hardly enough to ensure survival. However, the hospitable environment in terms of greenery and warm weather year-round was more than enough to amplify the deer population, which today is quite substantial. We can surmise that the deer was a favored hunting target, which subsequently contributed venison as a tasty dinner entree on the dinner tables of the resident planters. As is generally known, deer consume a great deal of plant life, sometimes making them less than popular with local garden enthusiasts.
Speaking of garden enthusiasts, an interesting fact from Danish times is that a Botanical Garden was established in Christiansted around 1770 by an officer and building inspector in the Danish military contingent here by the name of Julius von Roehr who was an outstanding professional botanist, naturalist, and artist. His extensive knowledge of tropical flora was admired far and wide, and he sent many dried plant specimens with extensive descriptive information to Denmark. The location of the garden was in the eastern section of town adjoining Hospital Street/East End Road. Sadly, no traces remain, but our St. George Village Botanical Garden located in mid-island off Centerline Road more than compensates for the loss, and is in itself an unusual Danish contribution through its placement on the site and among the ruins of a former Danish sugar plantation.