Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/August 1908/Shall our Forest Wealth Be Destroyed?

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 73‎ | August 1908

SHALL OUR FOREST WEALTH BE DESTROYED?
By THOMAS ELMER WILL

SECRETARY OF THE AMERICAN FORESTRY ASSOCIATION

IN the sunny southland, stretching from Pennsylvania in the northeast to Alabama in the southwest, are the Southern Appalachian Mountains. These constitute not a single ridge or chain, but a zone or belt composed of numerous parallel ridges, as the Alleghenies, Blue Ridge, Black, Unakas, Smoky, etc. Connecting these ridges, often, are cross ridges equaling in cases and even exceeding the longitudinal ranges.

Surmounting these ranges at many points are lofty peaks. Of these the chief, Mt. Mitchell, is 6,711 feet high; 46 more, a mile or more apart, with 41 miles of divide, rise to an altitude of 6,000 feet, while 288 others, with 300 miles of divide, reach a height of 5,000 feet above the sea. Among these may be mentioned, in the Blue Ridge, Grandfather Mountain, 5,964 feet, Pinnacle, 5.693 feet and Standing Indian, 5,562 feet high. In the Smoky Mountains, Mount Guyot reaches a height of 6,636 feet, and Clingmans Dome, 6,619 feet.

"Between these groups of mountains and far below them, though still at an elevation of 2,000 feet or more above the sea, are the numerous narrow valleys of this region." Many of them are marked by great fertility and beauty.

Save on the highest peaks, or on the slopes where man has interfered, these mountains are clad with a magnificent growth of forest. Near the bases are found oaks, hickories, maples, chestnuts and tulip poplars, suggesting in size the great trees of the Pacific coast. Higher, one passes through forests of great hemlocks, chestnut oaks, beeches and birches, and, still higher, through groves of spruce and balsam. Near the tops, the balsams become dwarfed and are succeeded, largely, by clusters of rhododendron and patches of grass fringed with flowers.

In this region, ranging from 60 inches in Georgia to 71 inches in North Carolina, occurs the heaviest annual rainfall in the United States, save on the Pacific coast. The water thus precipitated finds its way to the sea, east, west, southeast or southwest, through practically all the important rivers of the south. The Southern Appalachians thus constitute the watershed for, practically, the entire region below the Potomac and Ohio and east of the Mississippi. The descent of the water from the mountainsides is marked by some of the most beautiful cascades and waterfalls that ever gladdened human sight. Among

PSM V73 D181 Planting pine seeds in san gabriel national forest california.png

Planting Pine Seeds, San Gabriel National Forest, California.

these may be named the Falls of Elk Creek, near Cranberry, N. C, the Upper Falls of the Whitewater River, the Lower Cullasaja Falls of Macon County, N. C, and the Toccoa Falls of Habersham County, Ga. Thus, with infinite variety of mountain and valley, forest and stream, cascade and waterfall, beetling crag, bold precipice and dizzy gorge, this entire region presents a scene of transcendent natural beauty and sublimity.

As a national park and recreation ground this area has no equal in the United States. Unlike the splendid but remote Yosemite, it is within twenty-four hours' ride of 60,000,000 people. With modern transportation facilities the cities of the east—New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington; of the south—Charleston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, Louisville; of the middle west—Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago—are almost at its doors.
 
PSM V73 D182 Big tree logging in millwood california.png
Millwood, Cal. Logging a Big Tree.
 

Such a recreation ground is a crying national necessity. As a people, we work too much and rest too little. Herbert Spencer, when in America years ago, declared that we had heard enough of "the gospel of work," and that what we most needed was "the gospel of relaxation." Since then the situation has grown worse rather than better. It is the old story of "all work and no play"; and the effects are seen in nervous prostration, insanity and suicide.

Again, from the economic standpoint this area is invaluable. It contains our last remaining, important stand of hard woods. Forest Service statistics, the prices of lumber and all wood products—mounting by leaps and bounds—and common observation unite in testifying that our timber resources are being consumed and wasted in prodigal fashion and at a startling rate. The Southern Appalachian forests, however, the hand of the spoiler has delayed to enter; and, though the supplies, once thought inexhaustible, of New England and the Great Lake regions are practically gone, this area still contains a vast and priceless stock of the choicest timber on the continent.

We have heard of the "new south." It is the industrial south; the south of the railroad, the furnace, the loom and the spindle. From the purely agricultural, this section is rapidly entering upon the manufacturing stage. Irrespective of the question of labor, for such activity it enjoys some special advantages. Its staple, cotton, is near the mill, and its water-power facilities are magnificent.

Like many other things, power is a creature of evolution; first, it manifests through human strength; then, through" the energizing of brutes"; later, through wind and water crudely applied; and then, as the Yankee said, through water "biled," releasing, thus, the titan, steam, at whose feet, it has seemed, the very earth lay prostrate.

But the waning of the steam-engine is already in sight. New powers are appearing on the scene; the next of which, we may well believe, is electricity.

What a coal vein is to the steam-engine, a waterfall is to the dynamo.

As indicated, the Southern Appalachians abound in magnificent falls; from these, electric power can be developed cheaply and in great abundance. With the introduction of means of transmission it now becomes possible, instead of carrying the plant to the power, to bring the power to the plant. The gain is obvious.

The possibilities of electric power as applied to manufacturing in the south may be appreciated when it is known that North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia alone maintain cotton mills operated by water power which produce annually a product valued at over $60,000,000. "The water power of this southern region already developed or being developed is estimated at 500.000 horse-power. The

PSM V73 D184 Rangers of leadville national forest colorado.png

Rangers Hazzard and Brown, of Leadville National Forest, Colorado.

undeveloped water power is probably not less than 1,000,000 horse-power more."[1]

The mighty interests here indicated are bound up with the preservation and perpetuation of the forests upon the Southern Appalachian Mountain slopes. The value of water power is limited by the low water flow. The question is not, How much water is discharged annually? nor even, How great is the average flow per month? but How great is the minimum? Hence constancy and a reasonably large volume are essential.

These are insured by the preservation of the forests, for the forest mulch holds back the water precipitated by rainfall and thaws, and discharges it gradually the year round. If, on the other hand, the mountainsides are stripped of their vegetation and then, by fire and floods, denuded of their soils, the water which, gradually supplied, might have driven the mills, now descends in disastrous floods, only to be followed by long periods of low water.

Agriculture is, of course, largely dependent upon natural irrigation from the rivers fed from these mountains. To it the alternation of flood and drought is as disastrous as to manufacturing by water power. Similarly, the great transportation interest of the south is intimately concerned. Its profits are directly dependent upon tonnage, and tonnage is dependent upon the productiveness of the region served.

What, now, is the situation of the south as respects the conservation of these interests?

Three foes menace the forests. First is the exploiter of forest lands. Chief among these is the small mountain farmer. In a region never designed for agriculture he endeavors, with primitive appliances and obsolete methods, to grub out for himself a scant subsistence. To do this, he must sacrifice the trees.

Making a mountain farm, however, is quite a different thing from maintaining it as a farm. Under the crude culture practised, a period of from five to twenty years suffices to exhaust the land and send the farmer farther up the slope. Here he repeats the process; and thus, as he ascends, he leaves in his wake a tract of desolation, for the swift descending rains soon convert these cleared areas into irreclaimable gullies.

Second come the exploiters of the woods themselves. Among these may be mentioned the turpentine man, who, by a crude method of extracting the resin, though a far less hurtful might be employed with greater profit to him, is rapidly despoiling large areas of forest. The tan-bark man, next, strips from the trees their bark, and leaves their unused hulks to cumber the ground. The pulp man clears the ground of all trees—old, young, large and small—and so prevents the forest from renewing itself. Finally, as the bonanza farmer attacks the Dakota wheat-field, the lumberman, with methods long tested and equipment perfected, invades the forests, and the monarchs fall before him like grain before the sickle of the harvester.

Next and most terrible, sometimes from accident, sometimes from design, comes the fire. In the slash and wreckage left by wood-cutters

PSM V73 D185 Hand dipping rosin from vat into barrels in ocilla georgia.png

Still Hand-dipping Rosin from Vat into Barrels. Ocilla, Ga.

it rages as in a Chicago or a San Francisco; and in its seething caldron disappears not only the last vestige of wood but the very soil itself.

Last of all follows the rain. This, falling upon denuded slopes, is transformed from a blessing into a curse; for whatever movable thing remains is swept by it down the mountainsides to glut the streams and harbors and insure the overflows which convert the streams of the south into so many Hoang-hos or "rivers of sorrow."

In the face of this process almost every legitimate interest of the south is menaced. Natural beauty disappears like the splendor of the butterfly clutched by the schoolboy. Agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and the industries tangent thereto are doomed to prodigious

PSM V73 D186 Operations of the simpson logging co in mason county wa.png

Dinkey Engine and Geared Locomotive, Douglas Spruce District. Operations of Simpson Logging Co., Mason Co., Wash.

losses and, in cases, to extinction. The whole region involved is threatened.

And the remedy? President Roosevelt, quoting and endorsing Secretary Wilson, has put it tersely: "The preservation of the forests, of the streams, and of the agricutural interests here described can be successfully accomplished only by the purchase and creation of a national forest reserve." A cluster of thinkers, writers and publicists have borne similar testimony.

And why should a national forest reserve prove a remedy?

For this reason. There are in operation in our industrial life to-day two principles. The one is that of private initiative, individual profit and laissez faire; the other is that of public ownership, and administration for the public good. That the first has achieved victories, belted continents, surmounted Alps, tunneled mountains and worked miracles let us concede. Nevertheless, it has its limitations. That this is true, experience, with its insurance investigations, rate bills, meat inspection, pure-food legislation and the like, is daily making clear. In the field of forest administration and exploitation—notably when the forests in question control important river sources—the limits of laissez faire were long since, and after fearful public loss, recognized in Europe.

In such a case, the individual initiative principle works directly counter to the public good. Private interest impels the doing of almost all the mischievous things above enumerated: clearing slopes for farming,

PSM V73 D187 Ruins of a brick house caused by the freshet of may 21 1901.png

The Ruins of a Brick House demolished by the Freshet of May 21, 1901. Bakersville, Mitchell Co., N. C.

stripping trees for bark and leaving the trunks to rot, cutting clean for pulp, and felling at once for lumber purposes trees which should be left indefinitely on the ground. Abusing the exploiter is gratuitous, vain, unjust. His "greed," so called, and his disregard for public interests are no greater than those of other men. He is simply following the principle whereby successes have been achieved and fortunes won on every side; but, in so doing, he is, nevertheless, mining and sapping at the very foundations of national well-being.

The second principle, on the other hand, impels the quest not for

PSM V73 D188 Landslide in a pasture in mitchell county ca may 21 1901.png

The Shape of the Cloudland Mountain, between Green Cove and the Head of Bear Creek, showing Land Slides in Pasture. These were made in the storm of May 21, 1901, and covered from 100 to 500 square feet. Mitchell Co., Cal.

private profit and individual fortunes, but for the general welfare. It views a question from the standpoint not of the individual, but of the community. It recognizes that the nation which would hold its place in the world struggle and in universal history must husband its natural resources and raise the general level of its average citizenship. Viewing a forest-covered slope, the representative of the private interest principle says: "Here a principality may be won. Come, see and conquer!"; But the exponent of the public-interest principle says: "No; your present, petty gain can be reaped only by irremediable public loss. The whole is greater than any of its parts. The public safety is the supreme law. The government stands for all the people. In their interest, therefore, we encircle this area with the ramparts of public protection. To private initiative we say, 'Thus far shalt thou come, but no farther.' For the nation's sake this territory shall be conserved and forever publicly guarded and administered."

The present national forest area of the United States now exceeds the combined areas of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and West Virginia—all west of the Mississippi. Already the policy is amply justified by its fruits. Now let it be extended.

For the establishment of a national forest to protect the grand old white hills of New Hampshire and the great commercial and manufacturing interests dependent thereupon an argument may be made almost or quite as strong as that for the protection of the Southern Appalachian forests.

Nine years ago the struggle began for the establishment of national forests first in the southern Appalachians, and then in the White Mountains. In the fifty-ninth Congress this effort almost succeeded. The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate and reported without dissent for passage by the House Committee on Agriculture. The president approved it in advance and strongly urged its passage. Through the opposition, however, as is generally understood, of the speaker, this bill could not be brought to a vote in the House. The fifty-ninth Congress did, however, appropriate $25,000 for surveying the Appalachian-White Mountain area. In the summer following, the survey was made and the report was made at the first session of the sixtieth Congress. Appalachian bills were promptly introduced into both Houses. The House bills went to the Committee on Agriculture. Here, on January 30, a hearing was had. It lasted an entire day and was of a character apparently to convince all who were open to conviction. Later, however, the constitutional question was raised and the bill was sent to the House Committee on Judiciary. A hearing was had before this committee on February 27, the arguments for and against

PSM V73 D189 Fire stop barrier in the adirondack mountains.png

A Serious Fire was stopped at this Lane. It is 60 feet wide, and was hastily cut through a Dense Sapling Stand. Litter scraped up on the right. Beede, Adirondack Mountains, N. Y.

 
PSM V73 D190 Linville river and falls mitchell county n c.png
Linville River and Falls, showing Steep Rocky Gorge, whose Walls are from 500 to nearly 2,000 feet high. Byums Bluff, Mitchell Co.. N. C.
 

the constitutionality of the measure being presented. Then came the familiar delay. Meanwhile boards of trade, chambers of commerce, women's clubs, civic and patriotic organizations and individuals without number representing every section of the country, every political creed and practically every social class and interest, poured in letters, telegrams, petitions and resolutions, as one congressman declared, "by the millions." The Senate passed the bill.

The House Committee on Judiciary, by unanimous vote, on April 22, decided as follows:

Resolved, that the Committee is of opinion that the federal government has no power to acquire lands within a state, solely for forest reserves; but under its constitutional power over navigation, the federal government may appropriate for the purchase of lands and forest reserves in a state, provided it is made clearly to appear that such lands and forest reserves have a direct and substantial connection with the conservation and improvement of the navigability of a river, actually navigable in whole or in part; and any appropriation made therefor is limited to that purpose.

Resolved, that the bills referred to in the resolutions of the House, H. R. 10,456 and H. R. 10,457, are not confined to such last mentioned purpose, and are therefore unconstitutional.

This decision, apparently adverse, was really favorable. The bills were at once modified to meet the requirements of the Judiciary Committee and reintroduced. The Agricultural Committee of the House, however, reported a new bill, providing only for a Congressional investigation or "junket" during the recess. This passed the House, but went no farther.

Effort should now be concentrated on the House, to secure the passage, by that body, of the excellent Senate bill. Already the tide of public opinion has risen high in favor of this legislation. It is still rising. An earnest, united, systematized effort, by all concerned, should bring success at the next session of Congress.

  1. U. S. Senate report No. 2537.