This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The Pertinent Laws and Regulations, and the Future of North American Forests.
Translated for the Gardener's Monthly by G. W. De B.
Prom time to time, we hear through the public press of" enormous " forests, of " enormous " forest fires, and of " enormous " damages done to forests in North America; occasionally we are even favored with rather exhaustive particulars. However loud the complaints may have been, and ever so condemnatory, very soon the idea that these forests are " inexhaustible" will again come to the foreground, supported by a mass of desultory and unreliable reports, false statistics, so-called popular essays, and other interesting articles. The following attempt to give a picture of the actual situation and the probable future of the American Continent, which, in a great measure, depends on the preservation and rational development of its forest land, will therefore hardly be out of place. The incompleteness of our work will be the more readily excused, as many of the incidental questions remain unsolved even by the competent authorities in America, whose judgment must necessarily be incomplete as long as the larger part of this extensive forest land has never even been surveyed.
Nevertheless, we shall be able to give a reliable, if not an exhaustive description of the general condition; as some of the first authorities on forestry in the United States and Canada have furnished us much valuable material by special correspondence as well as through their own publications.
With few exceptions, American forest trees stand the European climate well; many of them prove valuable material for various trades and industries, more profitable even than the indigenous species; and the future of American forestry is of particular interest to us, as a great many of the better woods at present manufactured in Europe came from North America. Our own imports, as well as our exports to other countries, would be materially affected by a notable decrease of American exports!
When in the seventeenth century Europeans, principally Englishmen, began emigrating to North America, the extent and magnificence of its forests, which until then the foot of man had but seldom penetrated, very naturally originated the idea of their being inexhaustible, and the most inestimable waste no doubt began almost with the first settlers. In 1681, William Penn issued an ordinance decreeing that for every five acres cut down, one acre of woodland must remain untouched, and that principally oaks and mulberry trees, so indispensable to ship-building and silk-culture, must be spared. Again, in 1693, a commission of three was appointed to investigate the damage suffered by the citizens of Breucklyn (now Brooklyn) by the unauthorized felling of some of the very best and largest trees in their forests. Both laws seem, however, to have remained dead letters, and it is not likely that the unruly times of the eighteenth century left the American Colonies much time for the consideration of questions like those relating to forestry.
Soon after the Colonies had achieved their independence, we find a law passed by Congress, reserving certain woodland, grown with ship-timber for the United States navy. The general situation was, however, hardly effected by this law, for as late as 1817 the timber land thus reserved was but twenty square miles. A number of laws from 1820 to 1840 regulated the sale of government land, in which no distinction was made between most valuable woodland and arid plains, because in most cases the government was not even informed to which of the two classes the land sold belonged. The price, according to the "Report upon Forestry," was fixed at an average of $1.25 per acre, and the purchaser bound himself to cultivate a certain portion of the land, in consideration whereof, he was given a thirty-three months' credit for the purchase money. The large speculators, however, only cared for the timber, cut down whatever they could, and mostly disappeared long before the end of these thirty-three months, in many cases without as much as paying the miserable $1.25 per acre. To cover their wanton depredations these speculators very often inaugurated a forest fire before they left, which caused even larger damages than the thefts it was to cover.
Until 1854, a system of " timber agencies," under the authority of the Treasury Department, existed; after the dissolution of these, local "Government Law-Districts" were organized, with a special department for everything relating to forestry, and the whole Bureau was transferred to the Department of the Interior. The evils were nowise abated by this transfer, and now many districts are being robbed with impunity of their timber. Whenever a particularly glaring case does get investigated, it is invariably compromised for a purely nominal sum, as no one is found to outbid the cheeky speculators. From 1868 to 1872 all the government received from such prosecutions amounted to $150,000, while the actual value of the stolen timber was at least some twenty or thirty million dollars. All the reports on forestry from 1870 to 1880 speak of the increasing waste and lawlessness in regard to the felling of timber, and many eminent authorities have expressed doubts as to whether it were altogether possible to remedy the existing situation by laws.
Instead of laying high penalties on every case in which a conviction was reached, the Secretary of the Interior, in 1877, abrogated the Government Land Agents, in whose place "special agents" were from time to time to be sent by the Department, which agents were to inquire into all timber depredations and report to the Secretary. The attacks on Mr. Secretary Schurz by the " timber ring " in consequence of these orders were very bitter, and he was at one time in danger of losing his position in the Cabinet. In his report to the President, of 1877, the Secretary of the Interior says: "The amount of timber stolen from Government lands is enormous, much more so than is generally believed. The stealing of timber has grown to be a regularly and systematically organized business, and the speedy denudation of the country must fill every truly patriotic citizen with deep anxiety".
That is "free America!" Only no hindrance to " individual " liberty; no matter if for centuries to come, he lay waste whole districts by his thoroughly organized depredations! Would it not be better and more rational, as well as more just, if the timber thieves were treated like horse thieves, and were lynched whenever detected in flagranti?
The impotence of the general Government to oppose these abuses is evident, and the petition of some of the Legislatures to Congress to transfer the supervision of Government lands to the single States, seems quite in order. The memorial of the State of Colorado is particularly clear and pointed. It emphasizes the fact that the general Government has repeatedly declared itself powerless to remedy the evils complained of; that the wholesale thefts of timber, and the forest fires, which often last for months, if continued to the same extent would in less than a quarter of a century entirely destroy the woodland of the State; and that already the climate, soil and agriculture of Colorado have greatly suffered under the wanton destruction of her forests. A similar memorial from the 'Board of Agriculture," of Maine (1869) contains, after minutely describing the wholesale devastations and their evil consequences, the remarkable words: "Are we to learn from such occurrences and facts, that only monarchies are capable of protecting these treasures of nature? And is it really impossible for a republic to protect her soil enough to conserve it for posterity?"
(To be continued).