Forestry For Our Wasteland

Date Published: 
August, 1908
Original Author: 
Prof. C. H. Dutcher
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Convention

In the study of this subject I find it to be a great one. I have found at least two dozen phases of forestry upon which I would love to write, all having more to do with wasteland than with any other, and each deserving a twenty-minute paper. It has been hard, therefore, to determine which phase would be the most profitable on this occasion.

Forestry as a science seeks to discover and apply certain principles by which forests are best managed. It differs from arboriculture in that it cares nothing for single trees only as they stand together on an area whose principle crop is trees; and practical forestry means both the use and the preservation of the forest. Its uses, like the demands made upon it, are numberless. It sustains and regulates the streams, modifies the climate by influencing the winds, the moisture and the covering of the surface of the land; beautifies the landscape, supplies wood, timber and lumber. Surely a thing so useful should be given proper protection from fires, from thieves and from the reckless waste of lumbermen.

But what are wastelands? Possibly, denuded worn out lands, swamplands and arid lands of the West, would include about all. Few of us here today are troubled with swam lands; or with arid lands, though last spring things got a little swampy in some portions of Missouri and Kansas and up to the last few days, we felt a little arid. Hence of denuded worn out lands alone, shall I speak today.

Not only were "The groves God's first temples" but the "primeval forests" seems to have been well nigh universal. Only in the arid sections and on the highest mountains, do we find a dearth of trees, and even here nature puts forth a tremendous effort to grow a substitute. Less than 300 years ago we could count our forests by the millions of square miles. All of the New England states, the Atlantic states and the states constituting our river valleys, were once covered with magnificent forests. Today it is not so. We hear frequent reference made to the waste worn out lands of New England. The same may be said of many other sections. Why?

The Puritan of Massachusetts and the Cavalier of Virginia began the destruction of the woods in the interest of agriculture. Their descendants were slow and are slow today in placing a proper estimate upon the forests. However, forests are beginning to be counted among our National resources, quite as much as our, soil, ores, coal, oil and gas. The early settlers used the forests for themselves, not dreaming of the future. In the east they slaughtered the forests for land to plow. The rivers were for transportation, and boat building required much timber and lumber. The railroads later on, required millions and millions of ties and countless cubic feet of timber for bridges. These "advances in civilization" produced a market and hastened the removal of the forests.

The establishment of factories for vehicles, furniture and machinery increased the demand and Yankee greed has always been equal to, any demand. As Mr. Record puts it, "more trees had to be cut until in the Ohio Valley region, consisting of Ohio, Indiana, southern Illinois and northern Kentucky, once containing hundreds of thousands of square miles of timber, “so little forest area now remains, the demand of the people must be largely supplied from the outside”.  Only, nine years ago this section produced over two billion feet; or one-fourth of the hardwood used in the United States." Two years ago they produced less than half that amount. Even now the supply is practically exhausted and the Ohio Valley will never regain its lead, or its fame enjoyed for forty years as the center of “the hardwood industry." The same is largely true of northern Minnesota, southern Michigan and Wisconsin, southern Iowa and northern Missouri.

In a comparatively short time we have almost reached the end of our once magnificent forest areas, which should have always remained the glory of our fair land as a covering, even as long hair was, in Paul's estimation; a glory to a woman as a covering, We destroy annually by fire quite as much timber as we use. The forest growth is estimated to be only one third of the annual cut-in other words, the timber cut and disposed of in some way every year, is double our annual growth. How long can we stand it? Twenty years more of that rate of use and destruction will bring us to a distressing condition. I think it, was only last spring, Mr. Gifford Pinchot, in speaking of the dissipation of our forests, said, "We really face their absolute exhaustion within the present generation."

Extravagance and wastefulness, then, denuded vast areas of our fair land and rendered them waste and barren. We use five times as much timber per capita as many European countries. In an article in a geographical magazine, I read tint each year in the United States, thirty billions of board-feet of pine, spruce and hemlock are cut; three billions of oak and seven billions of cherry, walnut, poplar, hickory, cypress and chestnut, making forty billions in all, cut from our timber land every year. And further, that England is already aroused and even now is reaching out to every country she can and is importing lumber and timber into her dominion; that the United States is exporting considerable quantities of lumber, shingles and box material, but importing much less; that in 1900 we imported about twelve million dollars' worth of wood from Canada and about seven million dollars worth of cork, walnut and mahogany from other countries. It is shame that we have to import walnut. Had each generation been wise in its own time, this would not be. As for myself, I would be glad to have all exportation of woods in any form prohibited, or at least placed under close government regulation and every inducement through our tariff laws, held out to other countries to send their timber and lumber to us in large quantities. And when we apply common sense to the preservation of all the various sources of our national wealth, as we do to other national affairs, we will have that very condition existing.

We have so changed the climate in many states that we can not farm as we once did, and our farms lie waste and worn out. By the destruction of wooded areas, our soil has been allowed to go into rivulets, into streams, into creeks, into rivers, out into the ocean; a billion tons every year, the heaviest tax the farmer pays. We stand idly by and see our farms go into the rivers and oceans, and then vote a river and harbor tax to dig our own land out again, to dig that which should have been kept out. Our government is trying to teach us better through the Department of Forestry, but we are slow to learn. The valley farmers, yea, and the hill farmers too, have ruined the farms for navigation and the western farmer has already begun to ruin their rivers for navigation; and this reminds me of what Mr. Pinchot says in his very pleasant way, in speaking of wastelands of the west: "Ranges of the West do not now support one half of what they should under proper management, and we pay the penalty every time we buy a beefsteak or a leg of mutton."

It becomes us to right about face at once and restore these forests for economical, climatic and agricultural purposes. Let every man restore at least a wood lot. It can be done, even as the arid west has been so largely restored to a habitable condition, yea, converted from a pauper to a large surplus producing region. Shall we do it? Do you want to see "the desert" we ourselves have made, bloom once more as the rose? Then restore the forest growth to your rocky slopes, ravines, creek banks, and plant trees in every corner cut off naturally by creeks, or artificially, by drain ditches and railroads. See that trees grow on every steep slope and creek and river bank to prevent erosion by heavy rains or freshets. If you have no such places, plant trees where you need protection most, preserve them carefully from all enemies and cut out only dead or fallen and "weed trees." A belt of forest trees on the west and northern side of our orchards will protect fruit blossoms from late frosts, even as such a belt of trees around our barns and feed lots protect our stock from many a wintry blast.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Convention
Held at Kansas City, MO
August 11, 12 and 13, 1908