Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/339

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CIVILIZATION AND VEGETATION

even the soil was poisoned, a mistake, of course. Since there is scarcely any level land in that district, one may imagine the result of removing the forest cover, destroying the undergrowth and preventing any other vegetation which might cover the naked soil with its branches or leaves and hold it together and in place with its roots. Instead, the leaf-mold accumulated during centuries on the forest floor and the fine soil worked and re-worked by roots, worms and other occupants of the ground, were quickly washed down the slopes into the turbid streams, floods took the place of the spring freshets, and the bare earth battered by the rains constantly gave its fertility to the already rich lowlands far away, or to the still more distant and unneeding sea.

Conditions are better now. Instead of throwing away as a poisonous waste the sulphur dioxide formed in smelting their ores, the smelters are now collecting as large a proportion of this gas as possible for the manufacture of sulphuric acid. This they sell to the manufacturers of phosphate fertilizer. Instruction is leading to improved methods of farming, to the use of the phosphates made from converted smelter waste, the farms are beginning to yield crops which repay tillage, and the woodlands are improving. To complete this romance of industry reformed under federal compulsion, it need only be said that the manufacture of sulphuric acid is so profitable that the smelters would be run for that purpose now if for no other, and that their copper costs them nothing!

In this conflict of industry with agriculture and the native vegetation the outcome has been a happy one; for industry, forced to recognize prior and more general rights, has been so modified as to eliminate its injurious effects and to enhance its own profits. This is seldom possible to anything like the same extent. The greater the industrial plant requiring reform, the more intense and extensive the damage it does, and the greater must be the difficulty of making the needed changes in method of operation. And yet even manufacturers are coming to see, by compulsion to be sure in most cases, that their rights are not unlimited, that they must conduct their business in such a manner that agricultural or other legitimate and established interests will not suffer and that the property of the nation be not injured.

This is the significance of the agreement reported in the newspapers as recently made by the Attorney General of the United States with the owners of the great smelters in Montana. These smeltermen, rather than fight a suit brought in the federal court by the Attorney General, have promised to modify their methods of extracting copper and the other metals from their ores, so that they will no longer injure the property of the nation. One of these smelters handles 10,000 tons of ore per day, when running to its capacity, and last summer I drove twenty-five miles away from it, passing over the continental divide,