The justification of public ownership of such domains as forest and mineral lands stands upon an entirely different basis from public ownership of agricultural lands. Management of forestry and mining projects is much simpler than agriculture, since these industries can be conducted on a large-scale basis to a much greater advantage. From the standpoint of securing revenue, a state would more likely succeed by owning or managing forests and mines than agricultural projects.
Importance of Forests and Mines. - The revenue aspect, however, has not been the item of greatest concern in considering the retention of forests and mines. Lumber and minerals are used up once and for all, while agricultural lands continue to give their return year after year. It is to the interest of the individual owner, moreover, to conserve the qualities of the soil so it will continue to produce as much as possible. Its fertility may be preserved so that the soil will be as productive for future generations as for those using it at present. This is not true of the other industries under consideration.
An individual who owns a tract of mineral or forest land is interested in getting an immediate return. The method of production which will give this return will likely be the method used. Little concern has been had for future generations in the wasteful consumption of forests and minerals. Minerals once used cannot be replaced, while the fruition of reforestation is too distant to interest a particular generation. Since the products of forests and mines are so vital to the life and development of society, and since individuals are not sufficiently concerned with the welfare of future generations to seek to provide a continuous supply, it seems that the government should undertake this function. The state is the one entity which is concerned with posterity and its interests, and should be relied upon to see that future generations are properly protected from the greed of those living at present.
Indirect Effects of Forests. - That forests supply a useful product directly is, of course, important. Their indirect effect on climate, commerce, and industry is no less important. Porous forest lands assimilate moisture and give it up gradually. The removal of the forests is likely to cause disastrous floods in the winter and spring, and serious droughts in the summer and autumn. Such a situation is a detriment not only to agricultural development, but also to the use of water power as a means of conserving coal. Streams are a valuable and cheap source of power, which is greatly lessened, however, if the flow is not reasonably steady throughout the year. Steadiness of volume is also a necessary feature of streams which are to be used as commercial highways. Any advantage which may come from water transportation is quickly counterbalanced if vessels must lay up for a part of the time because of low water. These indirect influences of forests only magnify the need that the state exercise its authority in preserving them from generation to generation.