Popular Science Monthly/Volume 59/June 1901/Our Forest Reservations
|OUR FOREST RESERVATIONS.|
YALE FOREST SCHOOL.
IT is highly probable that the future will chronicle the act of March 3, 1891, under which the Chief Executive of the United States is given power to segregate forest reservations from the public domain, as a law most fruitful in results of vast import to the future welfare of the country. Armed with the power conferred by this act, the successive Presidents have in the past ten years established no less than thirty-nine national forest reservations.
As the act provides that the reservations are to be segregated from the public domain, they are for the most part in the Rocky Mountain region and in the Pacific Coast States where large areas of public forest lands were available.
The thirty-nine reservations in the aggregate contain more than 46,800,000 acres, an area more than fifteen times as large as the State of Connecticut, or about one-fortieth of the total area of the country exclusive of Alaska.
Much controversy has arisen as to the wisdom of withdrawing such large areas of the public lands from sale or from other disposition under the laws of the land office. Much of the opposition has disappeared during the past few years, and public sentiment in favor of forest reservations is rapidly increasing. In fact, so rapid has been this change in public sentiment that a movement is now on foot, with prospect of success, to establish a national forest reservation in the southern Appalachian Mountains, where it will be necessary for the Government to purchase the land at an expense of several million dollars. There is also an effort being made on the part of a good many spirited citizens to establish a national reservation in Minnesota, at the head of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, however, the latter effort is at present checked by the lumber interests of the region, although these interests would profit in the long run by the establishment of the reservation.
Forest reservations are not entirely national affairs.reservations are already an established fact in a few States and the indications are that they will be formed in many others during the next decade. The State forests in the Adirondack Mountains in the State of New York are splendid examples of such reservations. These lands were purchased at State expense that they might remain forever in forest, a great heritage for both pleasure and profit for all time.
Similar reservations have been established during the past few years in Pennsylvania, and others are likely to be set aside in Michigan before the close of the present year.
Going hand in hand with the making of the State and National reservations, there has been a rapid development in public sentiment as to the importance of practical forestry and its application to the management of the wooded areas of the country, both public and private.
This change in public sentiment is well illustrated in the volume and character of the investigations in forestry by the Government, when compared with what they were a few years ago. In the Division of Forestry of the Department of Agriculture alone, the appropriations have increased more than six-fold in three years, thus making it possible to extend the study of important problems in American forestry to many of the varied sections of the country. It is well illustrated in the rapidly increasing facilities for instruction in technical forestry in our recently established forest schools and the courses in forestry offered in many of our colleges and universities. It is shown in the fact that owners of private woodlands are in some instances employing trained foresters to superintend their lumbering operations, so that their methods of cutting will not interfere with the perpetuation of the forest. It is shown in the yearly increasing appropriations for forestry investigations by the legislatures of the several States, but most of all it is shown in the rapidly increasing number of applications coming to the trained foresters of the Government from the owners of private woodlands for assistance and advice in the management of their forests and in establishing plantations of forest trees.
I desire to make clear that this changing sentiment regarding our forests is most fortunate for our future welfare. American prosperity has been largely due to the productiveness of American soil, i. e., to her agricultural and forest products, the value of the latter approximating $1,000,000,000 per year at the present time. The effect upon the soil of these two classes of products is very different. Agricultural crops being removed when mature, practically in their entirety, impoverish the soil, while forest crops, being removed only in part and then at long intervals of time, have an opposite effect, as they for the most part enrich the soil.
For many reasons it is highly important that even in agricultural regions a varying proportion of the land should remain in forest, not only for the direct value of the products which it affords and its value in enriching the soil, but for its beneficial influence upon the adjacent cultivated fields which it is not necessary for me to recount here.
If it be desirable that a certain proportion of our agricultural lands be kept as woodland, it is important that they be made to produce desirable products in the largest degree consistent with economy. This can only be brought about by a rational system of management, where skill and foresight is exercised to as great a degree as in the successful production of agricultural crops.
Although much might be said regarding the importance of well managed woodland in agricultural regions, it is to the vast area of non-agricultural land in this country that the application of practical forestry will be of incalculable value. It is highly important that our non-agricultural lands be made to contribute toward our national wealth. There is no other contribution which they are capable of making that will compare, both directly and indirectly, with their forest growth.
Experience has abundantly shown that the natural selfishness of man leads him to excesses in the utilization of forest products. His tendency is not only to consume a product equal to the growth of his own time, but to make large inroads upon the future. He is profligate in the use of wood, often leaving all but the very best to decay upon the ground or to become fuel for forest fires.
The justification for our forest reservations should not, however, be based entirely upon their value in conserving timber. They have,
for the most part, been wisely selected to fulfil a threefold function, viz.: that of protection and luxury, as well as that represented in the direct value of forest products. Indeed, at the present time their direct value is in many instances of minor importance. On the other hand, as the reserved lands are almost entirely mountainous in character and located at the headwaters of many of our important streams, their value as conservators of moisture is very great, and it is to their maintenance in many instances that the farmers and ranchmen in the adjacent valleys must look for a perennial supply of water for their crops and stock.
In the selection of the reservations, consideration has also been given to their value from the standpoint of recreation and sport. They contain a large part of the wildest, grandest and most picturesque portions of the American continent, and many of them are still the haunts of the rarest and largest game that the country affords.
The segregation of the forest reservations from the public lands, without the establishment and execution of regulations for their protection and management, would have but little effect in itself upon the preservation of their forests as shown in the present condition of the forests on our unreserved lands. Excessive, unrestricted and indiscriminate grazing has invariably led to the destruction of the young growth on the floor of the forest.
Where such grazing is continued for a number of years, the forest
rapidly deteriorates, for there are not a sufficient number of young trees to form a proper leaf canopy when the old ones are removed or when they mature and decay. We appear to lack a realizing sense that it is the young growth and not the old trees that insure the perpetuation of the forest.As the reservations could not be treated in similar manner as the unreserved lands, with any expectation of preserving or improving the forest growth, provision was made by the U. S. Land Office, which was responsible for the management of the reservations, for the appointment of certain forest officials, viz.: superintendents, supervisors and forest rangers, these officers having immediate control of the reserved lands as to management and protection. Largely from their lack of both
a practical and technical knowledge of forestry, and, in most cases, even of woodcraft, their work has been necessarily limited. From lack of training and experience they have been unable to create and put into execution a practical system of forest management for the lands under their control. Although unable to cope with the problems of management, they have been able in many instances to afford the reservations a fair degree of protection from fire and grazing.
As the forests of the reservations must eventually be utilized for their timber and other forest products, in order to make direct contributions to the national wealth, the work of management must go beyond that of simply protecting them from fire and grazing, even if this were afforded to the fullest degree possible.
They should be so managed that wherever the mature timber has material value it can be harvested and sold. The utilization of the forest products, however, must not interfere with the perpetuation of the forest. The cutting must be so conducted that the forest be maintained in the best possible condition as to reproduction and growth consistent with economy. In order to do this it is necessary that the reservations be under the control of practical and trained foresters.
It is extremely gratifying to know that within the past few months the direct management of the national reservations, so far as it relates to questions of practical and economic forestry, has been transferred to the Division of Forestry of the Department of Agriculture, where they will receive attention from trained foresters. Working plans will be made for all the reservations, and the prospects are extremely flattering that on these 46,800,000 acres of reserved forest lands there will develop a system of American forestry that will have far-reaching influence on our future prosperity.
At first thought it may appear that it is not necessary to make forest reservations for the purpose of conserving the timber and lesser forest products in a country so splendidly wooded as the United States. When we consider, however, that, from the most reliable sources of information that we have, the amount of timber consumed exceeds the amount normally produced by the forests, we must know that the excess of consumption is at the expense of the main wood capital. In many instances this decrease is not so much on account of decrease in area as on account of decrease in productive capacity of the forests themselves.
Having such a splendid and large original supply to draw upon, we consume much more wood per capita than any other nation. At our present rate of consumption the most reliable authority that we have places the present supply as sufficient for our requirements for about fifty years, without taking into consideration the annual increment of the forests during this period.
It is difficult for us to comprehend our present yearly consumption of wood in all its varied uses. Conservative and accepted authorities place the present yearly lumber cut in this country at 40,000,000,000 feet (B. M.), while this is estimated to be but one-seventh of the total wood consumption. If it were possible to cut the entire amount yearly consumed into boards an inch thick, they would cover a walk six feet wide that would extend more than 354 times around the earth at its greatest diameter.
Although the amount of wood produced each year by the growth of the forests of the entire country is very great, it is a long way from what it might be both in quantity and quality were our forests adequately
protected and managed. It will certainly not be sufficient to supply our requirements, after the virgin timber is exhausted, without the organization of a system of management which will keep the lands assigned to forest growth properly protected and in a desirable condition as to reproduction and growth.
This is well illustrated in the present unsatisfactory condition of much of the woodland in the Eastern States that has been cut over at various times without consideration for a future crop and left without protection and to chance reproduction. In the oldest part of the Union, viz.: the original thirteen States, the latest report, based upon trustworthy figures, places the wooded area at a little over fifty-five per cent., yet without systematic forest management, how utterly inadequate this comparatively large area is to provide those States with their present wood requirements, more particularly timber of desirable dimensions for first-class lumber.
As one would naturally expect from the great variations in climate and topography, there are marked differences in the reservations in the quality and quantity of timber per acre. Indeed, such reservations as the San Jacinto and San Gabriel in Southern California, reserved primarily for the protection which they afford the adjacent cultivated lands, bear merchantable timber, but on a small percentage of their total area.
The large part of the vegetation is brush or chaparral, either mixed
with a scattered stand of single trees or wholly composed of shrubby plants. It should hardly be dignified by the term forest.
From these Southwestern reservations of the arid and semi-arid regions, with little timber of commercial importance, to the rich stands of splendid timber, covering large areas of the Washington and Mount Ranier reservations in the State of Washington, our thirty-nine reservations show all variations in the density of their forests. On the whole, however, but few of them have a large percentage of their total area covered with first-class commercial trees. In some instances the altitude is too great for the growth of desirable timber, while in others the lack of moisture will not permit its growth at low elevations. It is in the intermediate zones that tree growth is at its best.
Although a large number of species make up the forests of the reservations, they are for the most part composed of pines and other conifers, with the yellow pine and red fir a long way in the lead in commercial importance. The former of these two species is found in every one of the thirty-nine reservations, with the exception of the Apognak Reservation, in Alaska, and in many of them forms the major part of the forest, while the latter has nearly as wide a distribution.
In the Washington reservation pure stands of red fir may be classed among the finest forests in the world. Not infrequently single trees reach a height of from 250 to 300 feet, and contain 25,000 feet (B.M.) of merchantable lumber. The trees stand close together, their long, straight boles shooting upward like so many shafts from the dimly lighted bed of moss and ferns forming the floor of the forest. This
same tree, of a more stunted and shorter growth, forms a considerable part of the forests of the more southern reservations, even growing in the forests of Arizona. Here, however, the forest is open and the drooping limbs cover the boles nearly to the ground, rendering them of little value for commercial purposes, but of vast importance in shading the ground and thus aiding in the conservation of moisture.
No greater mistake can be made than to consider the timber supply of the reservations as confined to the mature trees that we find growing there at the present time. We should look into the future and ask what are these 46,800,000 acres of reserved lands capable of producing as an annual increment when properly protected and managed. What kind of forests are they capable of producing in the future, long after the trees now living shall have been harvested or have gone to decay?
The value of this vast inheritance, which is placed in our keeping for future generations, will depend upon how well we manage it. By this is not meant how well we protect the mature trees from the woodman's axe, but how well we protect the tender seedlings, that are to form the future forest, from being destroyed from outside influences.
Timber is grown but to be utilized, hence it is the duty of those having the reservations in charge to see that it is utilized at the proper time wherever accessible and of sufficient value to pay for the cutting.
It is far more important, however, at the present time, to preserve and improve every factor that leads toward the perpetuation of the forest and in keeping it at its best in reproduction and growth.It is worth while to consider briefly the indirect value of the forest reservations from the standpoint of water conservation. Although this is a factor to be taken into account in considering the value to the nation of each of the reservations, nowhere is it more apparent than in Arizona and Southern California, where the scarcity of water and its utilization for purposes of irrigation give it enormous value. It is to
a large measure the reservations of these regions and the preservation of their forest cover that give such great value to the adjacent cultivated fields. It is the water and not the land that has value. It is the perennial supply, flowing from the reserved and unreserved forests of East and Central Arizona, that has in the past two decades rescued the Salt River Valley from its former barrenness, with its scattered growth of creosote brush and cacti, and transformed it into one of the most fertile and productive areas in America. It is the forest cover of the San Jacinto and San reservations in Southern California that gave Riverside and Redlands her splendid orange groves and made possible the development of a productive and thriving community.
When in our Western forests one is constantly impressed by the change in relative humidity wrought wherever the forest has been removed. Springs have disappeared and cañons and ravines are now dry, where there were formerly perennial streams. Under the leaf mold and other débris of the forest, the soil is always moist, while on denuded areas in the same locality it is parched and dry. Everywhere the deep mulch forming the floor of the forest grasps the descending rains and melting snows and guides them into the deeper recesses of the earth. Where the forests have been destroyed, or even the mulch and litter forming the forest floor, as it so often is by fire or the excessive grazing of sheep, the rains for the most part, instead of sinking into the soil, pass over the surface, carrying silt and other debris into the streams and reservoirs, causing vital injury to irrigation enterprises.
So also in the semi-arid regions, where there are no forests, or where they have been destroyed, the wind has a free sweep, resulting in an enormous increase in evaporation. In some instances the evaporation from a water surface exposed to the free sweep of the wind reaches a maximum of thirteen inches in a single month. In exposed situations, snows a foot in depth are frequently lapped up in a single day without even moistening the soil beneath. We do not appreciate how great the necessity for the preservation of the forests is to the irrigable West.
Reservoirs for the purpose of impounding water to be used in irrigation have been constructed by private enterprise in many parts of the West, and the possibility of governmental construction of such reservoirs is by no means improbable. Effective reservoirs are not possible in our irrigable regions without due regard for the forests that feed the streams which fill them. Forests everywhere are the great preventors of erosion, and nowhere is this more evident than in our Western mountains. The utility of reservoirs, and, to a lesser extent, of distributing canals and laterals, becomes destroyed as they fill with silt. To prevent this filling, the forests must be preserved; they must be protected from fire, in so far as an efficient forest service can protect them, and also from grazing, wherever it seriously interferes with the effectiveness of the forest floor as a water absorbent. In some of the Southwestern reservations, notably in Arizona, sheep-grazing has been carried so far that natural reproduction is at a standstill, and the forest floor has been made in some places almost as bare and compact as a road-bed. It is reasonable to expect that overgrazing will continue, until every hoof that enters the reservations is there under a permit based upon the judgment of a competent forester, who shall have absolute decision as to the portions of the forests that can be safely grazed and those that cannot.
One of the most fertile causes of injury to the forest cover of the reservations arises from the numerous private holdings of non-agricultural lands within their boundaries. From personal experience I know that the harvesting of the timber on these small areas of private lands in the San Bernardino reservation and the leasing of them for grazing purposes have been harmful to the reservation to a marked degree. The conducting of logging operations during the dry season by means of traction engines or by donkey engines and cables have caused numerous fires, some of which have escaped and burned over large areas of the reservation.
In driving sheep to the leased lands within the boundaries of the reservation, they have been grazed for months on the reserved lands, the leasing of the private holdings being primarily an excuse to get the stock within the reservation. It would seem desirable, therefore, that all such holdings be acquired by the Government, in order to eliminate the constant danger arising from them.
We should not overlook the value of the forest reservations as great national parks for recreation and sport, where those so inclined can go and get in touch with nature at her best; where the streams abound in trout, and wild animals are not confined behind iron bars; where there are no signs, 'Keep off the grass,' and, best of all, where one can build himself anew from wholesome mountain air and water, vigorous exercise and plain food.
With so much to commend both State and National reservations and with such vast areas of public lands at the command of the Government, it is somewhat surprising that their realization remained until the last decade of the nineteenth century. At last the forest has gained thedue it as a great economic and civilizing factor and is taking its true place in the esteem of all classes of public-spirited citizens.