Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/April 1883/The Census and the Forests

637295Popular Science Monthly Volume 22 April 1883 — The Census and the Forests1883Nathaniel Hillyer Egleston



THE prudent and thrifty tradesman once a year takes an account of stock, and thereby assures himself as to what goods he has in possession, as well as what gain or loss may have accrued to him as the result of the year's transactions. So the nation, or, if we please to use the figure of personality, "Uncle Sam," deems it wise occasionally to take an account of stock; only this is done but once in ten years, and is called "taking the census." It could not well be taken oftener. The process is too long and too complicated. The reduction to tabular form of the millions of facts and items of information, the summarization of the particulars gathered from so many States and Territories, require no small amount of time, even with the best arrangements for facilitating the performance of the work. The results of the census of 1880 are not yet officially before us. Some facts as to population, the gross number of people in a certain range of cities and towns, and a few other facts of special interest or importance, have been communicated to the newspapers, and thus have become known to the public. But not a single volume of the thirty which the census report is expected to make has yet appeared.

Nor if we could have a more frequent census would it, perhaps, be desirable. We should not have time to become acquainted with the facts ascertained by one census, and to see their bearing upon our life and present occupations, before another census would be at our door with its claims upon our attention, because possibly necessitating some important change in our plans or pursuits.

With the growth of the country, the census constantly becomes a greater and more complicated matter. It was a comparatively simple affair at first. It was little more than the enumeration of the population of the country, for the purpose of apportioning direct taxes in the several States, and also the representatives in the national Congress. For the latter purpose the respective numbers of whites and blacks were given, three fifths of the latter being counted, during the existence of slavery, in determining the quota of representation for each State.

A noticeable fact in regard to the census of the United States is, that it is the result of a constitutional ordinance, the very first article of the Constitution providing for a general enumeration of the population within three years from the convening of the first session of Congress, and again during every subsequent decade. The first census was consequently taken in 1790. It gave the names of heads of families, the number of free white males above and below sixteen years of age, the number of females, and the number of slaves. Subsequent censuses have extended the classification so as to give the number of persons of any specified age, from one year upward to a hundred, and in recent years various other particulars. In 1810 the marshals were directed for the first time to make returns of the manufactures and manufacturing establishments of the country. So, from time to time, the census reports have embraced new facts in regard to the people and the products of their industry.

The ninth census, that of 1870, was much more full in this respect than any that preceded it. It gave not only the numbers of the people of all ages and the sexes, but their occupations and the products of their industries, as they had never been given before. Perhaps no country had ever had its material and social condition, its resources and productions, so fully presented to view as were ours by this census. With the experience gained in its compilation, and the satisfaction which its fullness had given, the census of 1880 was undertaken with the design to make it still more full and complete. Among other subjects to which special attention has been given in taking the tenth census is that of our forests. Hitherto the forests have been looked upon chiefly as the source of lumber-supply, and the census has taken account of them only so far as to report the statistics of the lumber trade, and some of the industries connected with it or derivable from it. But the importance of the forests at once appears when we consider that the census of 1870 reported the annual value of sawed lumber produced by our forests as $210,159,327, and that there were 63,928 establishments engaged in the manufacture of articles made entirely of wood, besides 109,512 establishments in which wood is an important part of the material used—as in the manufacture of carriages, agricultural implements, etc. It has been estimated that the value of the products annually drawn from our forests exceeds $1,000,000,000, and of the vast imports of Great Britain two thirds are said to be of vegetable character. Such facts show at once the very prominent place which the forests of the world hold among national interests. But, in addition to the bearing of the forests upon the mechanical industries of life, they have an important relation to climate and to the meteorologic conditions on which agriculture and commerce and the health and life of the people depend. When all these things are taken into account, as until recently they have not been, it becomes at once apparent that no subject, perhaps, deserves more consideration among the resources of a country, and that the special attention given it in the compilation of the present census is abundantly warranted.

Accordingly, the endeavor has been made to ascertain, with more completeness and precision than ever before, the situation of the country in respect to its woody covering; to learn to what extent the several States and Territories abound in trees in masses; of what species of trees the forests are composed, their location, and their commercial and industrial value. The work of ascertaining these facts, and presenting them in proper form as a part of the census returns, was committed by the Department of the Interior to Professor C. S. Sargent, of Harvard University, who is also manager of the Arnold Arboretum at Brookline. In carrying out the work assigned to him, Professor Sargent divided the whole country into several districts, each of which was given in charge to one or two competent persons, with the needful assistants, for the purpose of making a personal examination of the districts, and also ascertaining facts by correspondence with residents of different parts of the districts, so that a sufficiently exact report might be made in regard to the timber-growth of the country. Professor Sargent personally undertook the exploration of the Pacific division, including California, Oregon, and Washington Territory.

The result of this forest survey will be to give us a knowledge of the species and varieties of trees indigenous to our country, with the districts where they most abound, and where they attain their best development. It will show us what our forest resources are, whether for the production of lumber, or fuel, or for ornamental planting. It will show how far and how fast our forest supplies are diminishing, and from what cause or causes; whether from the axe of the lumberman, estimating the forests according to the number of feet of boards or timber which they will yield, or from the axe of the woodman or the miner; whether from the fire kindled by the pioneer, eager in the quickest way possible to clear a space in which to cultivate his wheat and corn, and pasture his herds, or from the fire lighted recklessly or by accident by some passing huntsman or traveler.

In showing the relative position of our forests in respect to land elevation and the vicinity of streams, the census report will show the relation of the forests to the water-supply, and consequently their influence upon agriculture and manufactures. It will indicate their influence upon rain-fall and climate, as well as upon the course and effect of winds, whether considered in their mechanical or their meteorological relations. It will have an important use also as indicating the relative healthfulness of different portions of our wide and diversified domain.

In prosecuting his study of our forests, Professor Sargent has gathered a large collection of specimens of the different woods. These will show the natural appearance of the trees, and the variation of appearance and texture caused by growth under differing circumstances of soil and climate. From these specimens portions have also been taken and carefully worked down so as to show the grain and the susceptibility to polish, and their consequent value for mechanical and artistic purposes. The beauty of our native woods, and their adaptation on this account to the manufacture of cabinet-work, and to the interior finish of dwellings, will be made to appear as never before, and will be a surprise to many. It will be seen that we have gone abroad and procured materials for cabinet and carpentry uses at great expense when our own forests stood ready to supply all that the most fastidious taste could require. Professor Brewer, of Yale College, reports that there are probably 800 species of woody plants indigenous to the United States, of which 250 attain a height of thirty feet, and are abundant in some portion of the country.

Careful experiments have also been made in order to determine the relative value of our woods for the purposes of construction and for use as fuel. Blocks and sections of a great variety of trees have been selected, reduced to the same dimensions, freed to an equal extent from moisture—in other words, brought, so far as possible, to the same conditions—and then subjected to treatment at the United States Arsenal at Watertown, by means of nice and powerful machinery, in the hands of careful manipulators, for the purpose of determining the respective amounts of resistance to a crushing and a fracturing strain. Similar pieces have also been burned, under like circumstances, as nearly as possible, and the amount of heat developed by their combustion accurately determined. The relative value as fuel of the different kinds of wood with which our country abounds has thus been ascertained. Probably no more trustworthy and decisive experiments have ever been made for the purpose of showing the value of different woods for the uses of construction or as sources of heat.

One of the peculiar and, practically, most valuable features of the census report of our forest resources is the attempt made by Professor Sargent to give at a glance, by means of maps, the history and present condition of our woodlands throughout the country. In the census of 1870 maps had been used for the purpose of showing the distribution of our native and foreign population, the greater or less degree of illiteracy in different portions of the country, and the areas of land devoted to the cultivation of the great staples, corn, wheat, and tobacco. The vital statistics were also, to some extent, reduced to the map form, and the deaths from consumption, fevers, and some other classes of diseases were presented in the same way.

In the census report now in preparation this plan of presenting classes of facts at once through the eye by means of maps is applied to the woody covering of the country. More especially, the object has been to show the present extent of the supply of pine-timber, as being of chief importance in connection with the lumber industry of the country, and so bearing, more or less directly, upon many other interests and occupations. The hard-woods, also, where prevalent to any considerable extent, are of course denoted on the maps. Otherwise, their amount and localities are briefly described in the accompanying text of the report.

In general, one map is devoted to each State or Territory, though in the case of Vermont and New Hampshire the two are grouped together. The maps are carefully prepared, and the engraving and printing in colors are such that the eye perceives at once in what portion of any State or Territory the supply of pine is undiminished, and where and to what extent it has been cut off. It is also made apparent at once where the pine has exclusive possession of the soil, and where it grows mingled with the hard-woods.

In connection with the maps, but on a separate page, the statistics in regard to the lumber-supply are given in properly arranged tables, these with the corresponding map constituting a "Forestry Bulletin." The first of the Bulletins to be printed was that relating to the "Pine Supply of Texas," and a brief description of this will show the method pursued in all. The map of Texas is on a scale of one hundred miles to the inch. The water-courses are given with great completeness, and the county lines as far west as the one hundredth parallel. The map is so printed in colors as to show the parts of the State abounding respectively in the short-leaved or loblolly pine (Pinus tæda) mixed with the oak and other hard-woods; second, those abounding in the short-leaved or yellow pine (Pinus mitis), mixed with oak and other hardwoods, together with a little loblolly pine; third, those abounding in the long-leaved pine (Pinus Australia), and, fourth, the regions from which merchantable pine has been cut off. A glance at the map shows that Texas is poorly supplied with pine-timber, the entire State, with the exception of the few eastern counties, being uncolored, which indicates the absence of trees in any such numbers as to constitute a forest. It is evident also from the map that in ten or twelve counties there is a considerable growth of the long-leaved pine, and in perhaps twenty or twenty-five counties a good deal of the two species of the short-leaved pine mingled with various hard-woods. But in seven eighths of the State there is not sufficient pine to be indicated at all on the map.

Turning now to the statistical tables accompanying the map, we find the estimated amount of merchantable pine standing at the date May 31, 1880, was as follows: long-leaved pine (Pinus Australia), 20,508,200,000 feet, board-measure; short-leaved pine (Pinus mitis), 26,093,200,000 feet; loblolly pine (Times tæda), 20,907,100,000 feet.

It will be noticed that the estimated amounts of the various kinds of pine found in Texas do not vary greatly from one another. The amount cut during the year ending May 31, 1880, of the long-leaved pine, is given 'as 06,450,000 feet; of the Pinus mitis, or short-leaved, 146,420,000 feet, including 30,290,000 shingles; and of the loblolly pine, 61,570,000 feet.

The amount of pine standing in the counties which have pine at all varies from 19,000,000 to 3,216,000,000 feet each.

From this description it will be seen that from such a simple Bulletin, with its map, any one can learn in a few minutes very accurately the condition of the lumber interest in any part of the country.

It will not be amiss, perhaps, to compare for a few moments the first Bulletin, that of Texas, with the sixth, that of Michigan, the two representing regions widely separated and differing also in climate while the latter has been, until quite recently, one of our chief sources for the supply of pine-lumber. The area of Texas is about five times as great as that of Michigan. The Upper and Low T er Peninsulas of Michigan are given upon separate maps, which are on a scale of forty miles to the inch. The engraving and coloring are such as to indicate portions abounding respectively in hard-wood, in pine, in pine and hardwood mingled together, the portions also which have been cut over, whether of pine alone or of pine and hard-wood mixed, and the barrens.

A glance at the maps shows at once that the lower portion of the State, for a distance of sixty or seventy miles from the Ohio border, is covered with hard-wood, except as it has been cleared for agricultural purposes. Above this a broad belt stretches across the State, in which pine and hard-woods have grown together, but in which the pine has been mostly swept off by the lumberman's axe, and so thoroughly swept off as to leave no corresponding growth to follow it in future years, and the gi-eater part of the hard-wood has also been destroyed. In the northern part of the Lower Peninsula some pine remains, but it is apparent that the axe has felled nearly all that grew in the vicinity of the streams, so that what little is now standing is reached only by means of railways built especially for the purpose of transporting it to market.

Looking at the map of the Upper Peninsula, the eye sees instantly that the pine-forests remain only in a comparatively small district bordering on the northern portion of Wisconsin and not easily accessible, while from that part of the State lying along the Menominee River and Green Bay, as well as along the upper shore of Lake Michigan and the southern shore of Lake Superior—in short, wherever they could be reached with facility—both the pine and hard-wood have been cleared away. There remains a belt of mingled pine and hardwood stretching across the interior of the Peninsula, and a section, consisting chiefly of hard-wood, lying in the extreme northern and northwestern portions.

These grand facts in regard to one of the principal sources hitherto of our pine-lumber are seen at a glance from the clear and well-defined maps of the forthcoming census report. Apart from such a presentation to the eye, they could not be gained without much and careful inquiry, and then the facts would make no such clear and distinct impression upon the mind as they do at once when thus mapped before the sight.

The rate at which the supply of lumber in any region is increased or diminished can not be given by a single map, or the relation of the supply to the annual demand. These facts could be presented to the eye only by a series of maps showing the areas of forest as they become changed from year to year. So, in a single page of figures accompanying each map, we have the estimated amount of merchantable timber still standing on the 31st of May, 1880, and the amount cut during the year ending with that date. The comparison of these readily gives the probable duration of the supply at the present rate of consumption. Thus the statement for Michigan is as follows: In the Lower Peninsula the amount of white pine is:

In the basins of the streams flowing into Saginaw Bay 7,000,000,000  feet.
In the basins of streams flowing into Lake Huron 8,000,000,000 "
In the basins of streams flowing into Lake Michigan 14,000,000,000 "
Total 29,000,000,000 "
Cut for the census year ending May 31, 1880, including 2,988,600,000 shingles and 428,445,000 laths, but exclusive of 36,000,000 staves and 3,330,000 sets of headings, 4,068,773,000 feet.

It will be seen at once that, at the present rate of consumption, the white-pine lumber of the Lower Peninsula will be consumed in about seven years. It will probably last somewhat longer than this, because its increasing scarcity and the increased difficulty of procuring it on account of its remoteness from streams by means of which it might be easily floated to market, will advance the price, and thereby lessen the demand for it. The duration of the remaining pine-forests of Michigan will also be extended by the fact that the augmented price will lead to the substitution of the hard-woods for many purposes in the place of pine. We see every day that the hard-woods are coming into use more and more for the interior finish of buildings, as well as for many other applications.

There is in the Lower Peninsula an estimated amount of 575,500,000 cords of hard-wood distributed over nearly 20,000,000 acres. About twenty per cent of this is suitable for lumber and cooperage stock. There were cut for the census year ending May 31, 1880, exclusive of 163,821,000 staves and 18,567,000 sets of headings, and including 6,038,000 feet of spool stock, 440,944,000 feet.

In the southern half of the Lower Peninsula the forest has been largely removed for agricultural purposes or used in manufacturing although considerable wooded areas generally distributed still remain. In the upper part of this Peninsula the hard-wood is now being rapidly consumed in the manufacture of charcoal, to be used for the purpose of smelting the iron-ores with which that region abounds.

Passing now to the Upper Peninsula, it is estimated that the amount of merchantable pine-lumber still standing is 6,000,000,000 feet. There were cut for the census year ending May 31, 1881, 328,438,000 feet. The supply here, at the present rate of consumption, would last about eighteen years.

Of hard-wood there is an estimated amount of 124,500,000 cords, distributed over 10,000,000 acres. There were cut for the census year, exclusive of fuel and railroad-ties, 1,145,000 cords. The southern counties contain large areas of swamp covered with tamarack, white and yellow cedar, estimated in the aggregate at 62,500,000 cords.

We have not undertaken to give the full results of the census, even in respect to our forests and forest products. We could not do so, in the present incomplete state of the returns. We have only endeavored to indicate in advance some of the interesting and valuable results which may be anticipated from the publication of the census returns in regard to our forests and woodlands whenever that publication shall be made. We have sought to exhibit the method adopted in compiling the census, as showing the confidence which may be given to the results presented. Without doubt, under the careful management of Professor Sargent, with his able corps of assistants, we shall have set before us in the two volumes of his special report, with the accompanying maps, a great body of most interesting and important facts in regard to the present and prospective condition of our forests. We shall know, as it was not possible to know before, their value as sources of lumber and fuel, and for various uses in the arts. We shall know, as we have not known before, the various agencies by which the forests are destroyed, and the rapidity with which their destruction is effected. We shall learn, as we have not learned before, that, wasteful as is the process of converting our forests into lumber, more of our precious woodlands are destroyed by fire than by the axe. It has been ascertained, for instance, that in the comparatively small State of Massachusetts more than 14,000 acres of forest, valued at more than $100,000, have been recently consumed by fire in a single year; and in Pennsylvania 685,738 acres of forest are reported as burned over in 1880, with a loss of more than $3,000,000. We shall learn that the axe and the flames together are consuming our forests so rapidly that we are threatened with great evils on this account in the not distant future. Trees are quickly felled and quickly burned; they are slow to grow. The lumberman's axe can destroy in an hour the oak or the pine which has gained its stature and its worth only by the annual increments of a century. The spark from the tobacco-pipe of a careless tramp may kindle a flame which will speedily spread over some great mountain-side and sweep away the forest covering which has been growing ever since the beginning of our history as a nation. Great revolutions may come in our national life, and generations of men will pass away, before that forest covering can be replaced.

The forthcoming census report will show that we have 25,708 establishments for converting the trees of our forests into lumber, that $181,186,122 are employed as the needful capital for carrying on this work, and that the value of the lumber produced is $233,367,729.

The revelations of the census will show with new clearness that, in view of the rapid destruction of our forests and the evils threatened in consequence, there is no time to be lost in taking measures to avert those evils so far as possible. What measures in particular should be adopted it is aside from our present purpose to show. It is enough to say in general that we should do all that we can individually, and by legislative enactment where necessary, to prevent the further needless destruction of our remaining forests. We should be more careful and less wasteful in cutting them for the production of lumber. We should guard them more vigilantly, and, by the enforcement of severe penalties if need be, against those chance fires which result in evil, and evil only, without any incidental good to any one. We should encourage the reproduction of forests, by leaving a sufficiency of seed or mother trees on the ground where the forests are cut, and by carefully excluding from all such grounds the cattle, whose teeth and hoofs together are almost as destructive as the axe or the flames. It is impossible to grow valuable forests where cattle are allowed to range in them and browse upon the tender trees. In Europe, they have decided long ago that the woods are no proper pasture-grounds for cattle.

Finally, we should encourage the planting of many new forests on what are practically the waste lands of many of our States. Such lands can thus be made the most productive, pecuniarily, of all our lands, while in those States and Territories which are comparatively destitute of forests no land is too good to be devoted to this purpose, and no labor of the husbandman promises so important and so profitable results as that of tree-planting on the large scale. The "Northwestern Lumberman," Chicago, in its review of the lumber product for the present year, says, "To own a saw-mill to-day, with ten years' supply of standing timber, is to have that which is far better and safer than a gold-mine in the Occident." The same paper also says: "The amount of timber cut from the forests of the Northwest" (meaning Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, chiefly) "in 1881, counting that made into shingles with the lumber, exceeded 7,000,000,000 feet. It requires some little grasp of the subject to comprehend such an enormous sum. Loaded on cars, green, it would make a train nearly seven thousand miles in length. The amount of money required to purchase it from first hands would be not far from $125,000,000."

With such statements relative to the consumption of our existing forests, from authoritative sources, and the well-known fact that the price of all kinds of lumber has greatly increased during the last ten years, while that of some kinds has doubled, there should be little doubt that, looked at as a pecuniary venture alone, tree-planting on an extensive scale will bring a sure and abundant reward to those who engage in it.