Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/189

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185
SOME ECONOMIC FACTORS

could resist. The general decline of farm values; migration of the population to cities and the west; the bankruptcy of railroads and similar events, are the chief incidents of the rural history of New England of the last generation. Many of the towns, still overtaxed by reason of long-standing railroad bonds, may well ask the question "whether the railroad was an asset or a liability." In not a few regions railroads were first constructed for the purpose of transporting lumber. If any thought were given to the future it was assumed that agriculture or some unforeseen industry would follow lumbering and would furnish business for the railroad. In many of these sections only a small portion of the soil is adapted for farming, and wood-using industries alone are possible in a community where lumber is the only natural resource. Is it then any wonder that many of these railroads to-day, after the timber has been removed, are on the verge of insolvency? It is too late to remedy this evil in many sections, but new railroads are still being built in the same old spirit of exploitation. Would it not be well for a state, in granting a charter for such a road, to make some provision for the conservation of the natural resources tributary to that road? Such a measure would not only safeguard the community traversed, but would be of inestimable benefit to the innocent stockholders of the railroad, upon whom the road would, sooner or later, be unloaded by the capitalists.

Some form of state control would work no hardship upon the people, if adopted in connection with better transportation facilities. It is a well acknowledged fact that adequate transportation alone makes possible the practise of forestry. Yet, because of the shortness of human life, and the still shorter human judgment, railroads in this country have always resulted in waste and desolation of forests, rather than in conservation and upbuilding, and only in a few cases, where the soil was particularly rich, has forest destruction been justified.

From the standpoint of railroading, there are few crops which furnish the promise for permanent railroad prosperity that is supplied by the timber crop of the well-managed forest. Under fair conditions of soil and management an annual production of 300 board feet per acre is easily obtainable. Let us assume a railroad, fifty miles in length, serving a region about thirty miles wide. If one third of this area is tillable, which is about the average percentage in New England, the total area which should be devoted to forestry would be 640,000 acres. The annual cut from this area would be about 190 million feet of lumber, or 10,000 car-loads, were it all shipped in a rough state.

The average freight rate on a car of lumber from Northern New England to Boston or Springfield, is about $50. Such a traffic would, therefore, be worth to the whole railroad system (although not to this one road alone) a half million dollars a year.

It is estimated there are in New England some twenty-five million