This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Much has been said in Agricultural Societies in reference to the rapid cutting away of the full-grown trees in the forests. Some action has also been taken in the legislature to stimulate tree planting, and a very curious plan has been reported by a committee, that seems to look only to the planting of shade trees along the road, to be paid for at the expense of good roads.
I have for about fifty years past, been watching the result of extensive chopping of entire forests for charcoal for iron works, and noted well the volume of water in the streams along the foot of these wooded regions, then and now - I mean before each of the choppings and afterwards, and to the present time - and have arrived at the following conclusions, which I give you with some hesitancy, knowing that so many intelligent gentlemen have deprecated the destruction of timber on its supposed unfavorable effect upon rainfall and moisture generally.
In the first place, the very diminutive acreage cleared and brought into cultivation can have no appreciable effect, if any at all, it had, it is far more than compensated by the products of that soil so subdued and made to yield food for man.
Then, secondly, we look into the forest mountain timber land, from whence the lumber of commerce comes. But a small percentage of trees are fit for the lumberman's use at any one chopping or going over. All the young, crooked, or any way defective are left, and the quite young are far more thrifty and rapid in growth for having more room, sunshine, and air. Thus in a score of years quite as many trees may again be ready, having attained marketable size.
And now for a question of rainfall and keeping up mountain streams. I contend that where all the old trees are chopped away, the sprouts from the stumps, and young trees springing up at once, soon shade the ground more effectually than when old trees smothered out all such growth. Then again, we know that warm air moving up from damp earth is the parent of rain; but the tall trees intercept the sun's rays high up, leaving the earth cooler than if its rays rested on bushes, or came nearer to the earth. Hence I account for the increased flow of water from the springs and mountain rills coming out of the thick undergrowth or young timber in the old choppings.
So much for the dreaded diminution of rain. I really do think it is advantageous to the wooded region and contiguous country to have all the old timber cut down. I do know that if you desire to perpetuate a chestnut forest you must chop it off clean every twenty-five years. If you do so, on every stump from five to eight healthy vigorous chestnut trees spring up, making the best of rail timber. If you do not so chop them away, the old tree dies at the top, the heart rots, and the forest perishes and is succeeded by worthless pin oaks, black oaks, etc. White and yellow pines also come up rapidly wherever the older trees no longer overshadow them, and absorb the carbonic acid gas absolutely essential to all tree growth. I am far from thinking that in thirty or forty years there will be no pine timber for man's use. Iron works that began to chop away timber fifty or sixty years back, and chopped over the land a second time have now more timber, healthier and sounder, than they began with in the virgin forest wherever the forest fires were kept out.
And herein lies the great evil. Young timber standing quite thick produces a vast coat of leaves. These leaves drop to the ground; the wind cannot blow them away. Many places ten to twelve inches of a compact coat of leaves are secured on the ground and in process of forming valuable mould, in time enriching the land. All this is gained by cutting away the old forest and stimulating a thicket of young timber. Some of it must die - always will - when it gets a little behind its compeers in the race upward. Now this vast array of leaves makes the whole forest a vast tinder box, and when fires in the fall, or worse, in the early spring, on a windy day are started it makes fearful havoc, killing all the young tender sorts, such as chestnut, maple, pine, white oak, etc., and indeed almost everything perishes. Great uneasiness is always felt by owners of such timber lands on windy days in the spring before the leaves are out.
The destruction of young timber is a great loss directly to the owner, and remotely to the farmer in that region and to the general wealth of the country. There is a rapid process of enriching the land going on while these leaves are saved from the devouring fire, that in time will show wonderfully in its productive capacity when under the plow, far ahead of that which for long years was clothed in old trees with no undergrowth, and the leaves always blown away.
To this end legislation is more needed. If we can have laws, and an effective mode of quenching all such fires quickly, we save a thousand trees to one that ever man by his hand will plant under any law that may be enacted, and cost far less. These fires can always be arrested at the start, before they acquire great extent, and certainly the first night when the moist air and lulling of the wind gives full power to man. But it must be attended to in time. Men who volunteer to go to extinguish it are now paid out of the fund arising from the dog tax; but I am of the impression even that is now repealed, leaving no combined aid. The man who, by his carelessness may start it, if the wind favors him, lets it go upon his neighbor's land. Proper regulations by law should be made making such persons amenable for all damages, and some obligation resting upon every one contiguous to rush at once to the task of extinguishing it, and pay out of the county treasury one dollar to each man for his night's aid in its final extinguishment.
I believe this is a practical question, and my object is to treat it in a practical way, however I may run counter to some of the rain theories. I hope the committee at Harrisburg may see this article, if you see fit to print it in your valuable journal. My opinion is that the planting of some shade trees along the roads is excellent for ornamentation and general comfort, but for the end in view is wholly inadequate; and that we have thousands of trees set out by nature and all we have to do is to protect them from fire.