Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/611

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THE LESSON OF THE FOREST FIRES.

enacted, both by the General Government and the States, very little has yet been accomplished toward the restriction of waste, the preservation of timber, protection from plunder, or prevention of forest fires.

Senator Dawes, in speaking of the invasion of the public lands, declared that "the ingenuity of the lawmaker has not yet equaled that of the spoliator," And even Mr. Fernow has pronounced, as his private opinion, that the United States has not yet reached the stage in the depletion of its forests when it is possible to carry out a really protective forest policy, and that this will not be accomplished until the country is reduced to the same condition of deforestation that the countries of the Old World had attained before remedial means were adopted. If this be true, we can only sit with folded hands and pray that this consummation may be speedily reached. Others, too, have joined the pessimistic strain, and argued that, "so long as the present conditions continue, the destruction of the forests is inevitable, and any policy of forest preservation is impossible."

I, for one, will not believe that our citizens are so blind to experience, or so indifferent or so powerless in this matter.

It is true that no government can prevent wasteful methods of lumbering so long as timbered lands are held as private property, and virgin forests can be bought at a rate so cheap that careless management will still leave a profit. But governments can control the process on land owned by them, by withholding the land from market, awaiting the time—not far distant—when the timber can be sold under such regulations as will make the most of its resources. If this were done, lumber owners would soon find their interest to lie in more provident methods; and increased values would make them saving of their resources. As to forest fires, since no plea of the public welfare avails to induce lumbermen to burn their débris, or to get rid of it in any way that is not directly repaid, and appeals to patriotism or a regard for the interests of their neighbors are unheeded, the strong arm of the law must be stretched out to compel.

Why this has not been done it is hard to say: common if not statute law gives redress, and holds the owner of land accountable to his neighbor for negligence that endangers him. Is there warrant, either in a court of law or of common sense, that the owner of land may cut his timber and pile up the remnants to dry and become combustible material, with danger to his neighbor's timber or other property in case of fire, without being held accountable to him for the damage? Probaby the legal aspect of the case is not well understood, and the results have been so long submitted to—perhaps because the injured are themselves similarly situated toward others, and therefore can